grace Posts

A Gratitude Adjustment

Imagine with me, a man sitting around a dinner table. His heart is overwhelmed with gratitude. He sits there surrounded by his children and extended family. With an unrestrained smile on his face he looks at each of his loved ones in the eyes. He has not been a part of a gathering like this in years. In fact, he’s not been near his wife or children for years. Imagine, as his wife lays the final plate of food on the table, she places her hand on his shoulder and asks if everyone would hold hands. Holding hands, that’s another thing he hasn’t done in years. He hasn’t even touched anyone in years. Imagine that he squeezes his wife’s soft and tender hand tightly. As he begins a prayer of thanksgiving, his emotion overwhelms him and tears of joy fill his eyes. His voice cracks, he pauses, and his loving wife finishes his prayer for him.

No, this is not your normal family gathering, nor is it a Hallmark commercial or a Norman Rockwell painting. This is the story of a man whose life has been radically changed. He wasn’t off fighting a war and he hasn’t spent time in prison, at least not the kind of prison you might be thinking of. He had been locked up for years in a prison of a disease, resulting in isolation, injustice, and discrimination.  I want us to push rewind and go back a few weeks or months and see why this man is so grateful that he cannot control his emotions. Let’s look at a man who’s like us, who encountered the One Man who could help him.

 Luke 17:11-19 tells his story. He was healed of leprosy by Jesus and though we don’t know about his life after he was healed, we can imagine.  But to fully understand the power of this story and the radically different life that we’ve imagined after this encounter, we must first understand the life of isolation and utter despair this man lived as a leper in the first century.

These ten were together for a reason. First of all, if they were to be with anyone at all, it would have to be with each other. Secondly, they share a common pain. Pain draws together unlikely companions- with a powerful bond (like Dallas Maverick’s or Rangers fans), or seriously, like a recovery group or cancer support or Grief-Share ministry. These men suffered from Hansen’s Disease, or H.D., its called in the medical community). This disease was incurable and would attack the nervous system- (not the central nervous system but the sensory nerves and especially the extremities- the hands, feet, and facial features. Often it would result in severe ulcer damage and the loss of fingers, toes, even hands and feet. Facial nerves were often destroyed leading to hideous deformation of the face. The nerve damage would cause paralysis and even attack the cranial nerves, leading to blindness.

There was no mistaking someone with leprosy. And because it was a communicable disease, contracted through touch or even through the air, the person was forced by law to be separated from all others- some sources say at least 50 feet- can you imagine. They were even required to shout their coming: “Leper!” (I’m a threat to you, I’m not wanted! I’m an outcast!”). They were ostracized, outcasts, left to a degenerative state and a life of chronic pain. Worse than the disease was their separation from family, friends, and the faith community. Why did ONE come back to express thanks? Were they all grateful but only one expressed it? And can you be truly grateful without expressing it? Why are some people more grateful than others? Is your life marked by thanksgiving?

Choosing a Life of Gratitude I truly believe that a life of thanksgiving (or thanks-living) is a choice. But I’m also convinced that the more vibrant your walk with Christ, the more grateful you are. When you align yourself and, therefore your life, up with God’s perspective on life (that is, who you are and who He is), you WILL live a life of gratitude. To the degree that we are not aligned to God’s Way, we be less grateful. It’s possible to choose a life of gratitude but you must first acknowledge a few things…

  1. Acknowledge WHAT you have. The Bible says over and over again to “remember” what God has done for you. The old hymn says, “Count your many blessings- name them one by one… count your many blessings, see what God has done.” Health, home, church, family, friends, job, trials. Are you content with what you have? Or do you always tend to want more? Be grateful for what you have. Isn’t it amazing that America is the wealthiest country in the world and yet we are the least content? This reveals the folly of a materialistic life. Many of us have been to other countries where we have served among the poorest of the poor and have found them to be the most joy-filled, content people we’ve ever seen. Why is that? You begin to realize that material blessing is often not a blessing at all, but a curse. And how can such a materialistic people learn to be grateful? What’s the solution?:
  2. Acknowledge WHY you have what you have.

Not by your own power. “He has made us and we are His.” Everything you have is from God so “enter His courts with thanksgiving- give thanks to Him.” Psalm 100

Not by your own position.  Exodus 33:14 – “The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses learned that it was only God’s presence that brought him success in life. Your position of power or wealth was not of your own doing.  We see this in the book of Daniel where Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes”- Every person of any position has been put there by God. If you have had any success vocationally or financially it’s only because of God. God is the one who gives and takes away. Whatever position you have has been given to you by God.

Not by your own person.  Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord almighty.” Why do some people have a sense of entitlement- they think the world owes them something- they deserve what they want- when others are so humble and so grateful when they receive even something small? They see all gifts from God.

  1. Acknowledge HOW you have what you have.

You are blessed.  Proverbs 10:22 “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth and He adds no trouble to it.” Wealth brings great trouble if it comes through ungodly means.

You are loved. Everything we have is an act of grace from God. Romans 5:8 – While we were sinners Christ died for us!  1 John 4:10 – it’s not that we loved God but that He first loved us. And verse 19 says we can now love others in the same way.

You are responsible.  1 Corinthians 4:1-2– those given a trust must be found faithful. You are a steward of all that you have. How do I steward all that I have been given? Exodus 21:5-6– the bondservant who chooses to be a voluntary slave to the Master. I am responsible for the grace that I have received from God.

  1. Acknowledge WHO you have.

Family– express thanks to your family, Friends, Others people in your life- your brothers and sisters in Christ. In the end, life is really about WHO you have, not WHAT you have. If you want friends be a friend. But IF you don’t have Christ, consider this:

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:32  All of God’s blessings begin with Jesus. It’s why Thanksgiving is clearly a believers’ holiday- like the atheist who suddenly felt profoundly grateful and realized he had no one to thank. We know who to thank. Our gratitude is ultimately focused on a Person.

  1. Gratitude is always centered on Christ. This leper’s story is our story- we are all diseased; we’re all lepers. We have a disease called sin that only Christ can cure. We don’t deserve his love. The Bible says that we deserve eternal separation from God.

 

Thank Him for your salvation- and share it with others!

“The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to Father but through me.” John 14:6

“God so love the world that he gave His one and only son so that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The “Why?” of Worship in the Book of Job

Theologian, Peter Kreeft, calls it, “beautifully terrifying and terrifyingly beautiful”. Praised as one of the greatest pieces of literature in history, I have found it to be all of that and more. Most people know it as the epic story of man’s search for meaning in the midst of horrific evil and suffering. It is that but at its core, the Book of Job is about worship. It’s about why we worship God.

Job is introduced to us as a very wealthy man, a righteous man, with the perfect family, an idyllic life. The scene shifts to the spiritual realm, unseen by Job, and a conversation between God and Satan. And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Job 1:8 Notice it is God who speaks first and He is the One who brings Job to Satan’s attention. God chooses Job, not because he’s bad, but because he’s very good. There’s nothing that Job has done to deserve the suffering that he will endure. God is choosing Job and He’s doing so for some great purpose that Job knows nothing about. And God is using Satan for His purposes. It’s why Martin Luther called him, “God’s Satan”. Satan does what he’s told- nothing more and nothing less.

Among the many questions, there is one that unlocks the entire book and as we will see, this question unlocks the KEY to our suffering and a life of worship. Satan answers God’s question with a question: Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Job 1:9

Satan’s question has a two-fold implication:

  1. Job is worshipping God because of all that God has done for Him, not purely because He’s God. Satan’s allegation is that no one worships God out of a pure motive, but only to receive good gifts from God. Worship is simply a law of reciprocity.
  2. God is not worthy of worship. If He’s not doling out gifts, no human would worship Him.

Satan’s question is at the heart of the book of Job, and it is at the center of your life as well. Evidently, the Lord wants the whole wide world to know the answer to this question. He wants Job to go through suffering, and worship Him through it all, because He wants you and me to show the world what it looks like to worship God through every season of life. But why? What’s at stake? The glory of God. Satan questions the essence of God- His glory- His holiness revealed, His character.

Why Job worships God is the essence of the question. “Why?” gets to the heart, it’s a question of motive, the reason, the purpose. How would we know if Job worships God because of all that God has done for Him or if He worships God because He’s God and worthy of worship no matter what? Only one way. How would a watching world know if you worship God because of all the many good gifts He’s doled out to you, or if you worship Him because He’s God Almighty?

Job is at church every Sunday, but why? He’s reading his Bible and praying every day, but why? He’s giving to God, but why? Unknowingly, Satan is challenging the prosperity gospel, so popular in our day: If you are good and do good things, God will bless you. Many people around the world worship God, seeking to be brought out of their poverty, while others worship God until they’re undone by their wealth.

Of course, this grand experiment results in Job losing everything, but by the end of chapter one it seems Job has won this cosmic challenge, as He cries out “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!” (vs. 21). But it’s not over, and we should be so grateful. If it was over, then the story would be: “Job suffered, Job trusted, be like Job!” I’m so glad that’s not the end. The story goes on. Job loses his health and then come his 3 friends. They’re loving, good friends and they sit with him for an entire week without saying anything. Here we see a beautiful of the ministry of presence brought to a hurting friend. Their silence was brilliant but their words will not him help at all. But before they speak, Job speaks. In chapter 3 we find the darkest chapter in the book. Job curses the day that he was born. The entire chapter is summed up in the single question: “Why?” If you do not know the answer to the why question, life is meaningless, and thus, not worth living.

What do we learn through Job’s questions?

  1. Job’s questions point him to God. He curses the day he was created, but created he was. And if so, there IS a Creator. In his darkness, Job cannot avoid God.
  2. Job’s questions reveal hope. His restlessness betrays him. Like the atheist who’s angry with God, whom he claims does not exist. A restless man is not a hopeless man. A troubled woman is not a hopeless woman. If there’s no hope, there’s no need to ask, “why?” He says he wants to die but his restless words and questions betray him and point to life and resurrection.
  3. Job’s questions anticipate a deeper darkness. His loneliness foreshadows a greater loneliness. His trouble foresees a greater trouble. His darkness forecasts a deeper darkness. His pain foreshadows a greater pain. His suffering anticipates a much greater suffering of One who takes on the wrath of God for the entire world. Job is God-forsaken, pointing to the Day, 2,000-plus years later, when Christ, blameless Lamb of God, would suffer on the cross and ask: “MyGod, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

But Job does know something, something big. Later, revealed only by the Spirit of God, job makes a miraculous proclamation:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Job 19:25-27 Before resurrection theology is fully realized, Job knows.

What does Job know?

  1. He knows, by faith, his Redeemer is alive. (v. 25) Do you?
  2. He knows, by faith, his Redeemer will stand upon the earth. (v. 25) This word for “stand” foresees the Incarnation, but the word means to stand as a witness stands in court to bear testimony. Job cries out for a Mediator, someone to plead his case, to defend him before God. Christ alone can stand before our holy God, and Mediate, justify us, vindicate on our behalf. In Christ, God the Judge is also the Redeemer.
  1. He knows, by faith, he will see his Redeemer with his own eyes. (v. 26-27) God will come in the flesh in Christ. His Redeemer will stand upon every grave of every man and woman in Christ to act as the Redeemer. And on the last day we will stand justified and vindicated before Him- by grace. We know something that Job does not know. We DO know WHY he suffers. We know what Job does not know.

What do we know?

We know of the conversation in ch. 1.

  1. We know that God was at work in Job’s suffering. God wants everyone to watch Job. It must be very important to God for the Universe to watch a person worshipping Him, through all of life. Job’s sufferings foreshadow the cost of GRACE.
  2. We know that God was at work in Christ’s suffering. The world watches Christ upon the cross. If worship is reduced to the law of reciprocity then we completely miss out on the greatest News of all- the love of God in Christ to undeserving sinners like us. Christ’s suffering and death reveals God’s great love for us
  3. We know that God is at work in our suffering. There is, for Christ, an undeserved and redemptive suffering. There is for every believer undeserved and redemptive suffering. Undeserved, but always God is at work in you.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

God is at work in your suffering! How can we rejoice in our suffering? Only if the glory of God is the end game and purpose of your lives.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 Your suffering is connected to future glory. You will see the purpose of your suffering and God will make all things new. And I believe that those of us who suffer the most will see a greater glory. 

You have the opportunity to prove that you worship Him, because He is God and worthy of your worship. This week, a watching world can see that God is God as you worship Him regardless of what comes your way. Your friends, family, children, get a front row seat through every season of your life. And through it all, we have the opportunity to show that God is worthy to glory that He alone is due. God is at work in your suffering and He’s up to something great. Questions in life abound, but if you’ll choose to worship God, especially through suffering, you too will see Him, and others will see the glory of God. Job doesn’t get all of his answers, he gets something much better- he gets God, who is the Answer.

A Holy Separation Anxiety

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday”. But like everything else on the day of His death, it was good for us, but terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the night Jesus was silent, ironically, directing the entire process that led to His death. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and blind-folded Him, punching Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross, most of the way to Golgotha. At 9:00 am, the executioners impaled Him through His wrists and His feet, with long spikes, and fastened Him to the cross. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 pm.

At 3:00 pm, in anguish, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the wrath of the Father (His holy reaction to sin), as He “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was abandoned by the Father, so that you and I would never be. Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, and He died. At this final cry of victory, God’s inflexible holiness and His unconditional love collided as our redemption was made possible. Around 5:00 pm the women came to prepare His body for burial and at 6:00 pm they placed Him in the tomb. A massive stone was rolled into place as the sun set on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout this day, be in a constant state of remembrance, meditating on what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as if it was happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain Jesus faced, knowing He was about to endure a slow, painful death, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon Him. And remember, He did all of this for you and me. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but Sunday’s coming. Praise Him.

Pray:  Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me and give thanks to You/ My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross. May I always remember what You have accomplished for me. And may Your love for me lead me to love You, to obey You, and bring glory to You Name.

The Life of a Servant

Thursday night before His death

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach one of the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet – an act performed only by a servant, not a master. When He finished, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the well-known elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzo bread – the “bread of affliction” – (which was always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray:  Lord, thank You for Your amazing act of servanthood and Your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and, in so doing, I will be expressing my love to You. Tonight, as I lay down my head for a night of peaceful sleep, I will remember the sleepless night You had as You were arrested, tried, and beaten on my behalf. Thank you, for the soulful rest you bring because of the peace you have brought to those who trust in You.

Jesus, the Incomparable Substitute

As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was dying, his devoted followers asked how they should keep his memory alive, propagate his greatness. He said, “Don’t bother. Tell them not to remember me, but adhere to my teachings. They can forget me, but let my teachings be propagated around the world.” This sounds like a very self-less, humble response. But Jesus would have never said anything like this. If He had it would validate what many people think: that Jesus was yet another religious leader whose primary message was, “work harder, get better”. It would confirm what a lot of Christians seem to believe today – that Jesus came to initiate a new and improved behavior modification project. As if Jesus came to help us get better. Clearly Jesus taught us much, but think about it, what was at the heart of His teaching?

The central focus of Jesus’ teaching was His identity, who He was and is. He would have never said, “Forget me, just follow my teachings.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It may sound self-evident but at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ Himself, Who He is and what He has done. So, it’s paramount that we get our Christology right (who He is) above all else and then put everything else at it’s service. Here’s why:  Your view of Christ determines your response to Him. The Person of Jesus – His character, His identity, and the essence of His nature is clearly revealed in the Gospel accounts and is brought into undeniable focus and clarity the final week of His life.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem begins with a counter-procession, presenting a contrary way, a rival king, a contrasting social order, and an opposing theology, ushering in an alternative kingdom – the kingdom of God.

Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world,” and it contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil, but rather two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different belief systems- two fundamentally different loyalties. This King is ushering in a different kind of kingdom and it’s embodied in the King Himself.

This is why the angry pursuit of the religious leaders ramped up the final week of His life. In the end, He was not crucified because He talked about loving others or caring for the poor. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be. In the end, He lived the perfect life for us, suffered and died, taking on our shame and punishment, and He rose again, conquering death and hell- this is the Gospel, the Good News that has rescued us from death and hell. He is the King we worship, the One we proclaim, and the One we follow every day.

This Holy Week, let’s tell others who Jesus really is. Tell them He is not another good example, but our incomparable Substitute.