For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2: 11 

There was this rather simple thought that seemed to be just stuck in my mind when I got up this morning; It is one of those ideas that comes out of the fog of sleep and that begins to take on shape as the brain cells slowly start to warm up to their tasks. It is this, I try too hard to make what is designed to be simple and easily understood really complicated and obscure, and I am not even slightly alone in doing this. Now, I admit that this is something that I do in a lot of areas of my life; I do have an analytical personality, you know; thus, thinking through, over, and all around something is normal. This is different; this gets in the way of something much more important. 

My waking thought for today was this; God makes relationship with Him very simple, I tend to make it truly difficult. The Lord gives me an easily understood message to share with others; I turn it into a graduate-level seminary coarse. God opens His arms to everyone without reservation or hesitation; I create a list of qualifications and set up a screening system for access to Him. God loves all with the absolute love of that elusively perfect Father; I don’t even love myself all that well; even more so, I struggle with loving others. 

Thus, what is it that God has saved me from? He has saved me from the isolation that I would naturally create as my world; He has given me Himself as a gift beyond imagining, and He continually shows me how to live in the completeness of His overwhelming love. All of the thought and the consideration about who God is and of how He works and relates is fine; He created and empowers my mind; yet, the Lord still wants me to stay focused on the simplicity of His truth and on the accessibility of His saving grace. 

There is nothing that I can speak or write; no ritual, rite, or sacrament that I can perform; and none of my actions or works of my hands do anything to bring me or anyone else closer to God if they are not done out of love for Him and if they are not filled with His love for people. The singular thought on my mind this morning is that God graciously loves me, and He wants me to share that love with others without reservation, condition, or hesitation. Christ is much more interested in the relationship, and we can let Him worry about the details later.

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You have multiplied, O LORD my God,

   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

   none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

   yet they are more than can be told.

Psalm 40: 5

Silenced! Dumbstruck! Overwhelmed! These expressions of the way that David was impacted by the Lord’s engagement with his life are simple and weak in comparison to the actual feelings that must have formed up inside of his heart and mind. God’s grace, mercy, favor, and salvation had been granted to the author on too many occasions for him to not be amazed by it all. Now it seems to have happened again, and David can barely get the words out of his mouth to describe God’s gracious favor; yet, at the same time, he cannot hold his words in, either. He needs to tell the world all about the Lord and give us the details of when, how, and what God has accomplished for the sake of His servant.

So, David speaks out to tell everyone who might listen about the wonders of the Lord. He wants us to understand that God does everything because of His love, and He operates freely in our world because of His sovereignty over all of creation. There is nothing that David or that any of us are involved in that the Lord does not know about, and there is nowhere that we might go where He cannot operate with full knowledge and strength. Additionally, in every instance and upon each occasion that comes about in my journey through life, the Lord has both my best interests and the furtherance of His kingdom in mind and set as objectives. This was true for David, and it has remained so for all of the years that have passed by since. Care, engagement, and participation in the lives of His people have continued to be God’s desire and operating modality, and they are the Lord’s promise to us for all of time to come.

We too can join with David is shouting out praise to God for the way that He loves and cares for us. These shouts are expressions of worship and thanksgiving, and they are also uttered as a means of letting others know that they, too, can be the recipients of this form of eternal grace that does overcome all of the evil in this world. By God’s love, we are forgiven all of our sins, in Christ’s blood we are made eternally clean and proclaimed righteous before God, and through the Spirit’s leading we are granted opportunities to live out the fullest possible expression of our skills, talents, and gifts during the hours that we are granted to dwell upon this earth. As my identity is now found in Christ, so too are my feeble words of praise to God replaced by following the Spirit’s direction as I enter into loving others and caring for and about their needs in ways that would not exist without the Lord’s transformative work upon me. The Lord multiplies His wondrous works and expresses His loving thoughts toward the world through His people; so, let me be a follower that lives for Christ today and through all of those hours of life that God’s grace has granted to me.          

I know that everything God does endures forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 3: 14 

There is something strangely comforting in the thought that my life has an element of Divine reason and management in it; although, I might enjoy the notion that I am the one who determines my own direction, values, and outcomes, I also know my own lack of true skill and strength when it comes to handling the really challenging aspects of life. My vision is rather limited, too, for I tend to be looking out and devising my strategies from the vantage point of the hole that I continually dig for myself; whereas, I need to be positioned on a hill or in a tall tower in order to see clearly and far enough to make proper decisions. 

Let’s visit this idea of fearing God for just a moment; the real idea here is that we would respect Him, not that we would cower in the corner in terror. The fear that Solomon was speaking about is characterized by the knowledge that God already knows the outcome of our decisions, knows our hearts far better than we do, and will still stick with us through everything. This sort of respect involves trust, a willingness to yield my will to God, the acceptance of His direction for my life, and the understanding of how great God’s grace and forgiveness truly are. The Lord has it all under control; there will still be times of sadness, sorrow, and loss, but the result of following Him is a life that impacts my world with God’s love and grace.  

The Lord wants me to stay close to Him, and He promises that He will always be near to me. God wants me to find delight, joy, and comfort in living through each day; since, each day is one that He has designed as one step along the path of dwelling inside of the perfect life story that was laid out for me from the very beginning of Creation. Admittedly, there are times when evil steps in and momentarily subverts God’s purpose and plan; yet, even then, this is but a momentary time of misdirection, for God always takes back control. Like certain fantasy tales that I have read and seen in film, my choices and decisions have an influence on the day to day direction of the story, but God has promised His blessing on all of the outcomes so long as I continue to listen to His voice and seek His will. The Lord’s call to me is, “Listen, trust, and be joyous throughout the day that I have given to you”. My only reasonable response is to yield control to my Lord and to take delight in His outcome.  

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12: 3

Can you imagine the size and the nature of God’s measuring device? Is it like a cup that is used to get the proportions of ingredients for a cake right, or is it designed more along the lines of long incrementally divided stick or rod that can assess the depth and the width of the product that is being apportioned out? In fact, any form of instrument that we might consider from our world and experience will fall short of capturing the truly incredible nature and bounty of all that God gives to us. His gifts are extraordinary in all ways, and the Lord’s generosity with them is beyond imagining. God gives, and then, He gives more! As we are open to receive, so the Lord fills us up, and then He stretches our capacity to handle His grace and His love even further.

Yet, God’s gift of grace allows us to enter into all aspects of life with a form of humility that is not natural to people. In general, we are oriented toward telling our own stories in a manner that gives us credibility and status in our world. Our egos lead us into the need for establishing a position of superiority to at least some of the other people that are around us. This is not how God designed His body to function, and this is not the reality that Christ calls us to operate within, either. God’s grace is established in the full expression and nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Everything that can be contemplated as bringing about worth and that is required to establish value and position in this world is provided solely by Christ and through this greatest of all earthly and heavenly events. We bring nothing with us into this life, and we develop nothing along the way that adds to Christ’s accomplishment. There is no longer any need to strive and contend for status beyond our identity as followers of Christ.

The act of providing the grace that is required to live in humble submission to Christ is something that God accomplishes out of His infinite wisdom and total understanding of each of us. The transformation that comes about out of knowing Christ is not born upon any of us in its fully fleshed out form, for it is something that takes place over the entire course of the remaining days of each of our lives. The changes and the growth in spiritual strength that the Holy Spirit effects in us are aspects of our developing spiritual beings that gain expression and become manifest in each of us according to God’s perfect plan for His calling for us. Our part in this process is one of surrender and trust. We can cease our very human endeavors to fight back against some of the changes that the Spirit is asking us to make, and we can do this most efficiently as we trust God to take us to the place and to ask us to do the things that will be best for us and that will bring the greatest glory to His name.   

Through him (our Lord Jesus Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5: 2

 

It seems to me that if there is one thing that would make aa difference in the way that our world operates, that one thing might be the presence of more grace in our interactions and in our relationships. Now grace is an interesting concept, and it is a risky thing to engage in giving or receiving. Grace defies some of the rules of life that we all have learned, for it operates outside of the usual idea that all human interaction carries with it an inherent requirement that there be reciprocity. If I give something to you, then you are indebted to me until something of relatively equal worth is returned to me. This is the sort of platform upon which most of what we do and how we engage with each other is constructed. This give and take economy is where our world stands.

 

However, this is not where God is coming from in the way that He engages with His creation, in general, and with people, specifically.  In the beginning, He breathed life into us, and after we defied Him and went our own way into a universal journey of sin and its death, God came to us and provided Himself as our means of reentering the fullness of life. God asked for nothing in return as He poured out His grace upon our unworthy souls, and the only thing that Christ asked was that we be forgiven. Because of Christ and through God’s grace, anyone who turns to Him in repentance and submission is granted a new home in God’s Kingdom and a renewed purpose for this life in service to its King. Thus, in so living, we enter into our own hope of eternity wherein we will be covered in the glory of the Lord, but grace is still really for this life and it is about how we approach living today.

 

In Christ, we have received grace beyond our capacity or capability to measure it. There is no way to quantify or to compare this gift from God to anything else that we can perceive in this world. Yet, this grace that God has granted to us is intended to serve the purpose of setting us free from the bonds and the constraints that sin has imposed upon us. This is especially true when it comes to the way that we react to and interact with others. It seems to me that if we prepared out hearts to pour out grace upon people in all situations and under the wide range of circumstance in which we react to them in life, then this world would have a different tone and flavor to it. We might see others in a way that is more like Christ’s, and we just might find that other people start to understand some more of God’s gracious desire to redeem them. So, Lord, help me to stand today as a grace-soaked follower of Jesus and guide me to pour out that same infinite love upon others as an offering of grace given in worship to my King.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

1 Corinthians 1: 12

 

Most of what comes across as complicated and complex in this world is made so by the way that people think. We like to consider the angles, look at the possibilities, and reflect upon the intricacies of almost everything that comes along the way. It is the nature of humans to be inquisitive and to be skeptical at the same time. We don’t want to be fooled into making bad decisions because we under thought the situation, and we would prefer to be the masters of our own destiny based upon the careful manner in which we approached the challenge at hand. This is so much the character of our species that it is generally very hard for us to accept something based upon simple trust and faith.

 

Yet, that is what God has asked of us when it comes to relating to Him and to following His will. We are given the option of entering into a relationship with an unseen being who offers up a hope that is based upon actions that He has taken which seem utterly irrational when evaluated in human terms. Still, that is the point of it all, for our drive to over evaluate things is often a significant impediment to our ability to accept Christ and to enter into that offer of salvation that comes from God by and through Jesus. We want to make it too complex and to overlay what Christ has done with human reason, but Christ’s life, death, and resurrection defy such structure as they are carried out from God’s greater perspective of eternity and from that of His glorious kingdom come into earthly presence. If we are willing and able to set aside our drive for grasping ahold of complete mastery of our understandings and enter into the mystical world of faith, we can also engage with life with God’s view of things.

 

The Lord’s vision and insight change the way that things seem in this world, and He reshapes the manner in which we engage with them, too. Christ’s simplicity and sincerity are defined in the form of a passionate love for all people, an unrelenting adherence to righteousness, pouring out of boundless grace, an ongoing call to people to repent and to return to their Creator, and willing sacrifice of all for the sake of the redemption of any. None of this is complex or complicated. All of what Christ models for us is also ours to be entered into in His power and guided by His Spirit. As we navigate the course that God has granted to us for our days, we too can proclaim that our consciences are clear in that we are taking the truth of Christ’s Gospel of redemption as our life’s direction, and we are living out the Lord’s will for our lives to the best of our ability by virtue of God’s grace.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God and afflicted.

Isaiah 53: 4

 

Isaiah saw things that were outside of his own time and beyond the scope of the world here he lived. He certainly must have been a man with a powerful imagination, but he was even more a person who listened well to what God had to say. His story points to the fact that he desired to know his God well and that he was willing to submit himself to serving God with all of his being, and God responded to Isaiah’s deep commitment to Him by granting to him the vision of a prophet. Here Isaiah is looking some 700 years into the future to see God’s provision of the Messiah, the one who would come to bring salvation to the people of Israel and to the rest of the world as well. Isaiah tells us of God come into our midst in this world, but he also tells about the humanity of this new form of king as Isaiah’s telling portrays the servant nature that would characterize Jesus.

 

In this section of the prophecy we see something about Jesus, and so, about God, Himself that I think matters greatly. For we get the picture of the way that our sin and the brokenness of this world weigh upon God. He is not immune to feeling and to experiencing the pain and the suffering of the people of this earth. He is close to us so that He is very aware of what is transpiring in this world, and what we think, say, and do matters greatly to our Lord. Thus, when we attack each other, God knows our pain; as people oppress others, He knows great sorrow; in our hours of desperation and loneliness, the Lord knows our tears and longing; and when these bodies fail us, Christ desires to hold us up in our weakness and comfort us in our pain. Jesus lived in the swirling cloud of the suffering of this world, He breathed in its caustic dust, and Christ knew the anger, rejection, and pain that our sinfulness poured out upon Him personally, Jesus experienced the rejection that humanity threw in the face of God, and Christ still granted grace, mercy and the love of eternity to each of us who turn to Him.

 

God’s grace and His intention to lavish it upon His Creation is a truth that comes from far beyond the extent of time as we count it. The grace that redeems and that restores is rooted and grounded in the nature of God, and it finds its expression out of the Lord’s character. This nature and character are extraordinarily relational, for God operates in close proximity to all that His hands have made. Thus, He feels what we do feel, and He responds to all that we experience. Jesus knew in His flesh and in His spirit the full range of all that we encounter in life, and He walks through it all with us. As we live in this world with the sorrow and the pain of sin infused into its twisted fabric, there is no escape from hardship and sorrow; yet, these struggles and their attendant pain and grief can be times of growing significantly more in touch with the presence of Christ in our lives. He is here with us, and His presence is not that of a distant observer. Instead, the Spirit of Christ is within our experience of all that comes our way, and He will grant to us the comfort of an eternal perspective and the mercy of a peace that enfolds the hardship of life in the embrace of the true lover of our souls.