Grace & Judgment

John 3: 17

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.

Many of us know John 3: 16, but Jesus went further with his declaration of purpose. This idea goes along with the pronouncement that grace and truth are realized in Jesus. Judgment is an anchor around our necks, one which Jesus is here to free us of. Being judged is no fun but being the one with a judgmental spirit is just painful.

Grace means you are free to move from laws to principles. You are free to accept people  even when someone sets a foot awry. The law is very strict and it is judgmental. Law tends to be black and white. It is not gracious and kind. It takes people to add that gentility and forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace flow from the Father. Acceptance and understanding are beyond law concepts. That is not to say that we should pay no heed to the laws of the land or God’s laws. It is to say that grace is the ability to see beyond the law to the greater principle of serving one another in love. Grace does not mean lawlessness. It represents a higher degree of behavioral deportment. The law did not require Jesus to heal anyone. In fact, the law forbade him healing on the Sabbath. Grace, truth, mercy and the love of God required Jesus to show compassion.

Judgement was, and is, easy. The Pharisees did not need to lift a finger to condemn the sick or criticize Jesus.  The law required nothing of them.  Strict adherence to the letter of law would have left the sick in pain and torment.  It also condemned Jesus. The Pharisees were so stuck in their judgments that they could neither receive nor administer grace. Law and judgment are evil twins. If we, as a body of believers, lean towards law, then we will also find ourselves quick to judge. When we, on the other hand, are full of the grace of the Lord, we find it easier to minister forgiveness and understanding.

Tomorrow – part 3 of Moses’ Law and Jesus’ grace.

Law & Grace

John 1: 17

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

Jesus told the Pharisees that they would be judged by the law they served. He was trying to show them a paradigm of grace. Jesus not only represents a changed paradigm but also, he ushered in salvation by grace. The Apostle John opens his book making this distinction about Christ. He understood that Jesus caused a shift in the way we were to think and to live. As I pondered this verse I began to question, what does this shift mean us? How does the church of grace and truth differ from a church of law. We don’t deny the law Moses brought down from the mountain, do we? So, what does Jesus’ ministry do to alter our spiritual and ecclesiastical experience. Ultimately the question would seem to be, “What does a life, and a church, of grace and truth look like?” The follow up question is, how are we doing with that?

I am a lawyer by training. I like my rules. They tell us where to step and where not to step. However, we have all experienced times where the rules frustrate other purposes. This points out an important concept. The laws are made according to guiding principles. When the rules, or law, run afoul of the principles we have a problem. That is what Jesus encountered. The Pharisees criticized him for breaking the rules, but he was fulfilling God’s guiding principles. When is the appropriate time to heal? Jesus’ coming was a fulfillment of the law. He actually ushered us back to a time before the law, when we were supposed to be led by the Spirit rather than by codified rules.

Tomorrow, I will carry this a bit further as we all attempt to picture what a church of grace and truth is.

Fingerprints

Deuteronomy 28: 6

“Blessed will you be when you come in, and blessed will you be when you go out.”

An apt description of what this verse means in practical terms is that you see Jesus’ fingerprints on the fabric of your life. Or perhaps you like footprints running across the landscape of life. Whichever metaphor you choose, the effect is Jesus’ influence all over one’s life; little drops here, little touches there. Of course, there are the tidal waves of blessing too, but it is the dew drops on every leaf of life that have caught my attention. They could easily be ignored but when you lift your eyes, you see that Jesus is very gently watering every corner of your life. So many of life’s daily matters are simply taken care of, things about which one has not even prayed, things we would not even think to pray about are simply taken care of. It is like the most beautiful of spring days when you open your eyes to find flowers have bloomed where you did not plant.

I have been overwhelmed recently by the sheer number of details Jesus and Father have taken care of for me. It is humbling because these golden touches have nothing to do with my prayer or anything else I have done right. All glory to God, it has absolutely nothing to do with me. Father, in His goodness, knows issues which need attention, and He has been taking care of these things Himself. When I recently lifted my head, I saw Jesus fingerprints were all over my life. He has been busy blessing me. Some of the “little” touches have been nothing less than miraculous. Beyond Yahweh’s kindness is His attentiveness and I praise Him that He is paying attention to the details of my life.

The other side of this is the sorrow that people who don’t have Jesus don’t know how much they are missing. When I see all the little things Father does for me, I realize how barren their lives are. How does one explain the blessing on one’s life? How do we convey the love that Father pours out in even the smallest details? There is such a release of stress, stress we might not even realize we are holding when Father takes these things off our plate. You look around and find matters have just been handled, even matters which haven’t made it to your to do list yet. Problems are resolved before you realize there was an imminent issue. I wish that for everyone. I hope others will see the beautiful grace of Jesus upon our lives and join the club.

He’s Alive

Acts 1: 3

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of things regarding the kingdom of God.

I have been thinking about Easter, as, I am sure, many of you have as well. What new can be said about the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of our Lord? Nothing perhaps, but what I have been thinking is that he is alive. Now, we all know that, but I wonder if I act like it is true. We sometimes know things in our minds which aren’t quite realities in our hearts.

So, what is the message of Easter? There are so many important concepts which flow from the cross but the one I am wrapped up in is that Jesus is alive, and more to the point, his life is now in me. We are each renewed, not just from a theoretical or theological point of view but instead, renewed and reborn as new creations in his blood. Our hearts and spirits are washed and new. In the surrender to Jesus’ saving grace, is our forgiveness of ourselves and our remaking. We’ve seen how David failed, how Moses stumbled. Peter, one of the great apostles, denied Jesus three times and worse yet, he did so at Jesus’ hour of greatest torment.

I have been listening to the song, “He’s Alive.” It is an account of Peter’s reconciliation with Christ after his denial of Jesus. The songwriter, Don Francisco expressed this much better than I can. Peter is speaking:

When at last it came to choices
I denied I knew His name
Even if He was alive
It wouldn’t be the same

Suddenly the air was filled
With strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere
Drove shadows from the room

Jesus stood before me
With His arms held open wide
And I fell down on my knees
And just clung to Him and cried

He raised me to my feet
And as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him
Like sunlight from the skies

Guilt in my confusion
Disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had
Just melted into peace.

Peter’s story is our story. Each of us has doubted, feared and denied Jesus. We have all fallen short of our own aims, much less the worthiness of Christ’s sacrifice. None the less, Jesus reaches out and takes us into his arms. As we look in his eyes, we see none of the judgment or recrimination we deserve. He doesn’t even have to say a word; his eyes and his gentle smile tell us that he loves us and that we are accepted. “Enter into my grace,” he might say to us, “Enter and find peace.”

Jesus is alive and what that means to me this Easter is that we can all throw ourselves at his feet with our burdens of guilt and shame. Easter means that like Jesus, we arise. As he lifts us up, our burdens fall from us and we become holy because he is holy. He is alive and we are okay because he buried our sin and guilt.

Praise the Father of our Lord Jesus and bless Jesus’ name forever. Glory to Father, Son and Spirit! Cause your Spirit to rest upon us, dear Father, refreshing us in your glory and grace. And let us dwell in your presence and abide in your love today and evermore!

Click below to watch a video of David Phelps singing “He’s Alive!”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gGa1w_bnvM

Fallible

Luke 6: 37

Do not judge.

Simply said, not so simply done. It is easy to be judgmental. Why? Because people are fallible. Look at even some of the great Biblical heroes. Take David, for example. God said of him, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.” (Acts 13: 22). What better testimony can one have? God has never said anything like that about me. None the less, we find it pretty easy to judge David. He messed up big time and, for some, that sin has become David’s legacy more than the years and years of trusting God and doing his will. Is he remembered as the man who wrote most of the psalms or as the man who sinned before God and country?

What of Moses? Here is another great heroic figure. He essentially created a new nation out of a group of slaves. He rescued his entire nation, millions of enslaved Jews but, he, too, was fallible. In the end, he failed and, subsequently, didn’t get to go into the Promised Land. He rose to prominence in his own eyes rather than trusting in God’s power and God forbade him entrance to the Promised Land. Wow! Are you kidding me?! This is the guy who parted the Red Sea, who got water from a rock, and more. He, too, had faults, and in the end suffered a major failure.

The point? People are fallible. It is easy to be judgmental because every person you know has faults and weaknesses. The harder thing is to be the instrument of grace. Grace is the opposite of judgment. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” (John 1: 17). The problem is, like the Jews of the New Testament, we get stuck in the law. Jesus told us if we live by the law, we will die by it. That is not what any of us want. We all want God’s grace and that is a major reason we should live by grace.

We can look at a person and see their flaws or we can see the work of God. We can cover them with a mantle of grace such that what we see is through the veil of Jesus’ work in us and them. I do not say this is an easy thing to do. In fact, I believe it can be quite challenging. The easiest thing in the world is to focus on the many flaws each of us presents. The grace of God is acceptance in full view of our shortcomings. If Moses failed and didn’t get to go into the Promised Land because of it, what is the likelihood that many of us will fall short of God’s best? Thus, we are all easily judged as failures and miscreants. We don’t show the fullness of Christ’s love. So, if you want to judge me, or most others, it’s just not that hard. What Christ is looking for, though, is the for the love he has poured out on us to be used to spread grace, forgiveness and understanding for others. I think his instruction is pretty clear, “Do not judge.”

Castaway

Psalm 51: 11

Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

This prayer from David seems the picture of a dichotomy. On the one hand, it sounds like a desperate prayer offered as a last hope from one at the end of his rope. On the other hand, it sounds like an everyday prayer.

I was thinking just this morning about Jesus saying he could do nothing apart from the Father. I still find that an astounding statement, but how much more true is it of me? If the Father should take His Spirit from me, I would be able to do nothing. NOTHING! The thought is alarming. His presence with us daily is life.

This is my definition of hell, to be out of the presence of God, void of His Spirit. So, this prayer amounts to, “Save me from hell!” David’s guilt tormented him so that he began to understand the torment of hell. I pray, “Save us from even one moment outside your grace. Please do not take your Spirit away.”

Grace and Knowledge

2 peter 3: 18

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

A friend and I were talking yesterday when he said he feels like he has lost a year of his life to Covid. I well imagine a lot of us feel that way. It gave me pause, though, and I have two responses to it.

First of all, the year is not over yet. So, I ask you, what do you want this year to stand for? You’ve still got several months to turn this year around if you don’t like where you are right now. Further, I would suggest we all begin to think about next year as well and decide what we want out of it. You do not have to give your life away to Covid. Sure, there are restrictions. Not all is as it was, and it may be a while before we return to life as we knew it. Still, you can make something good out of this bad situation.

In that light I wish for you to consider today’s verse, and this brings me to my second comment. We get to decide what life will be for us, at least to some degree. We were not meant be stagnant. We are meant to grow and learn. Every day of our lives is meant to be part of the transformation  to which Christ invites us. So, I ask you again, what do you want? What do you want to be able to claim at the end of this year? This verse says we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. It is not too late to do exactly that. We don’t have to throw 2020 away entirely. We can grow. Most of us are not as busy as we once were so there is more discretionary time to put towards growing in Jesus.

Please, don’t be a victim of this time of challenge. Be an aggressive learner. There are so many ways you can turn these challenges in to a positive. We know that people are really struggling and even suffering. You could help those people. Don’t waste a single day of your life. Don’t look back and say, “I wish I had read my Bible more or prayed more or joined the prayer team.” Write some letters, start exercising, take a class, buy a book on the Bible or a Bible figure. Do something! Make these last two and a half months meaningful. What do you want? What do you want to say you gained out of 2020?

Let’s be champions of what Jesus has done for us. Let’s grow in his grace. Let’s grow in the knowledge of him. This is our moment, let us not waste it!