Patches of Joy

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog called Grace Recognized. That is the definition of the Greek word translated “joy” in the New Testament – just recognizing God’s working around us. And many times, just as His voice is not a loud shout, but a still, small voice, His works of grace are found in what C.S. Lewis called “patches of Godlight.” I hope these quotes will bless you and help you recognize these patches of joy. 

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, San Diego: Mariner, 2002. 

I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he returns home, I always expect him to tell me about the difficult economic situation of the countries he visited, about the great injustices he heard about, and the pain he has seen. But even though he is very aware of the great upheaval of the world, he seldom speaks of it. When he shares his experiences, he tells about the hidden joys he has discovered. He tells about a man, a woman, or a child who brought him hope and peace. He tells about little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of all the turmoil. He tells about the small wonders of God. At times I realize that I am disappointed because I want to hear “newspaper news,” exciting and exhilarating stories that can be talked about among friends. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He keeps saying: “I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.”  

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.  

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. – Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (full quote here https://generositymonk.com/2020/01/27/henri-nouwen-learn-to-steal-and-lift-up-real-joy/

Lord, make me see thy glory in every place. — Michelangelo 

You Loved Me Back

It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 

The word translated bitterness above is the Hebrew adjective mar or marah. It means angry, bitterly chafed, discontented, great (as in greatly or bitterly distressed), heavy (as in have a heavy or bitter heart).1 It comes from the same root as the name Mara, or bitter, which Naomi called herself after her sons and husband died, leaving her bereft in a foreign land. 

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20 

We have all, or I’m betting at least many of us, have felt like Naomi. Life has not turned out as expected. We have been dealt a bitter blow. We have lost loved ones. We have been left alone. It can be easy to become angry at God, bitter, discontented.  

In the verse above from Isaiah, Hezekiah is recounting how very bitter he was when he was told that he had a terminal disease. He even repeats the word twice for emphasis in the Hebrew. He literally says “it was bitter, was bitter unto me,” or “I had such bitterness, such bitterness.”  

But then he declares the most wonderful thing: but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. 

Do you know what that says, literally, in the original Hebrew? “Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption,”2 or “thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction – as if God’s love, beaming on the monarch’s soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit.3 

You have loved my soul back! Oh, yes! What amazing grace! How many times has He done that for me? It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck. Loving me back from anger and discontent and bitterness. Pulling me up out of depression, fear, despair and hopelessness. He has loved my soul back. 

But the most wonderful thing is: for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Picture that – God throwing my sins behind His back “Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered.”3  

And what does Hezekiah say about why all this happened to him? It was for my welfare. Literally, it was for my shalom: my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

It was for my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. But you have loved me back from the brink – from the pit of destruction, corruption, failure, nothingness. For you have cast away, thrown, flung, hurled all my sins behind your back.  

“The worst-case scenario is that all the very worst things happen, and I am still loved.” — Ann Voskamp, excerpt from the WayMaker Study Guide 

Yes, we are still, always, loved, even when the worst-case scenario happens. And He is drawing us – me and you – always loving us back. Back to Him. Praise for His amazing grace! 

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (ESV) 

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:1-2 

“Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering 

1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

3Pulpit Commentary 

Image, Killer Cliffs! by Martin Cathrae https://flic.kr/p/jqrf5

Grace Recognized

If joy is grace recognized, then I begin to see why I have had such a hard time with joy.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:9-12 

Joy = xará (χαρά) 

To me, the verses above in John have been like a Rubik’s Cube. I kept moving the parts – love, commands, joy – around, trying to make sense of them. I have written before about having trouble grasping joy. But this time, as I looked at the meaning of the Greek word translated joy above, the light broke through and I felt the last piece slide into place. 

As in the movie Princess Bride, the word does not mean what I think it means. The definition says nothing about emotions or feelings. It does not focus on me at all. But rather, it turns and looks in wonder at God. The word simply means the awareness of God’s grace and favor; it is “grace recognized.” And if joy is grace recognized, then I begin to see why I have had such a hard time with joy. 

Xará is one of three cognates of, or words that derive from, the root xar- “favor, disposed to, inclined, favorable towards, leaning towards to share benefit.” The three are xaírō (“rejoice because of grace”), xará (“joy because of grace”) and xáris (“grace” the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is “always leaning toward them”).1 

If you have never felt that kind of favor inclined towards you from humans, especially from your parents, then it is hard to recognize it from God. “[T]he Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10).”2 If all the “favor” or approval you ever received was, or was perceived to be, earned, dependent on approved performance, fulfilling the fantasies and demands of others, then the idea of unmerited grace is foreign. Certainly, joy because of grace is a mystery

The Bible is clear that God’s joy, love and grace are all bound up together in Christ Jesus. According to Romans 5:6-8, grace is a demonstration of God’s love. 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (sick, without strength, feeble, insufficient, unimpressive), Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

I know and believe this passionately. But I am beginning to see that for a long time I have been chained, deeply and unconsciously, to the insufficient and unimpressive parts of the above translation. The recognition, the awareness – the joy – of God’s unmerited grace has been like brilliant sunlight shining down briefly through a hole in dark clouds. Like a bright light hidden under heavy blankets of oppression. Maybe that is why Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light (Luke 8:16).” Maybe it’s so that I can see it too. 

Jesus’ joy is also the awareness of this grace. The grace that demonstrates the Father’s unconditional love. The grace and love demonstrated (freely extended to give Himself away) by Jesus who would endure the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).  

So, joy is not just another performance – how high I can raise my hands, how loudly I can sing. It is not another opportunity to fail to get it right, to be insufficient, unimpressive. But rather, it is “merely” a recognizing, an acknowledging, an awareness of the gift offered in his outstretched hands – 

the sun on my face 

bird-joy greeting the dawn 

the unfailing Presence 

a Father’s love leaning towards me 

blood running down a wooden cross 

… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame … Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) 

He is not here; he has risen … So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy (grace recognized), and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings (Rejoice!),” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Matthew 28:6-10 

1 All definitions from Bible Hub https://biblehub.com/  

2 What is the definition of grace? Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/definition-of-grace.html  

Image, A shaft of sunlight pierces the threatening clouds, by Mark Levisay  https://flic.kr/p/J9cBSr  

God is Pleased

This pleasure doesn’t just mean to be happy, but reaches out to embrace me by accepting the sacrifice made on my behalf.  

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Psalm 40:12 

“My heart fails.” How often lately have I felt that way! I was drawn to look closer at this verse and was amazed (but I shouldn’t have been!) to find it leading me to the passion of God for the reconciliation of the world to himself. It all leads back to the Cross where the way back to God was opened. Everything leads to the Cross. 

Though I went looking specifically at verse 12 and the “my heart fails” part, it was the next verse, Psalm 40:13, that arrested me. 

Be pleased (with me, delight yourself to make me acceptable, accomplish, accept the sacrifice, satisfy my debt, reconcile me, pardon me) to save (deliver, rescue) me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me. Psalm 40:13 

It was the “be pleased” part that struck me. When I looked at the Hebrew I saw that it doesn’t just mean to be happy, but reaches out to embrace me by accepting the sacrifice made on my behalf.  

The Hebrew word is ratsah (רָצָה). It means, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “to be pleased with; specifically, to satisfy a debt.” It means to be acceptable, approve, delight yourself, enjoy, pardon, be favorable, reconcile.  

God is pleased, delights even, to make me acceptable. He takes pleasure in accepting the sacrifice satisfying my debt. He delights to reconcile me, pardon me, save me!  

For God was pleased (took pleasure, was willing) to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 

What amazing grace! My heart fails from sin. I am oppressed and trapped under impossible debt. What is God’s response? He is pleased – takes pleasure, enjoys, is willing – to reconcile me to Himself, through the shed blood of His Son. It is not because He has to, but because it makes Him happy. It gives Him great pleasure. It delights Him. And even more than this, God is pleased to give me the kingdom, an everlasting inheritance with Him. God is pleased to do this as Jesus affirmed in Luke 12. 

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased (takes pleasure, is willing) to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 

I am overtaken now, not with my inescapable sin, but with His overwhelming, unfailing, unending, amazing grace and compassion. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion (inheritance, allotment) forever. Psalm 73:26 

The Dirty Work

(As part of the “sandwich generation” I have been called recently to a lot of caregiving. While I love deeply those I am called to serve, I am not always very willing and cheerful about it. That is why I am eternally grateful to my fellow bloggers this week for faithfulness to share their encouraging words.) 

“When you love someone you will do anything they ask; such is the case in relationships amongst young couples and even in old couples where the flame of love still burns strong. I have no problem admitting I love my wife and would do anything for her, to help her or make her happy. But sometimes our loved ones or those we respect will ask us for something which is difficult, something we would prefer not to do. Sometimes that loved one asking something of us that is difficult is God our Father.” — (blogged by Alan Kearns, Devotional Treasures https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/01/22/when-obedience-is-hard/

“You know, being a caregiver of any sort can be exhausting.  Being a mom…a homemaker…the one responsible for the needs of whomever is under our care…has its many moments of humbling work. Special needs or other health issues certainly add to the mix a new level of care. And a new level of seemingly lowly service … Even as Christ followers, we envision that the far-away mission field is more glorious and honoring than the dirty work we often do within the walls of our own home.” — (blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks https://hesaidwhatks.blog/2022/01/21/glamorless-glory/#like-6593

(Ah, yes, the dirty work!) 

“When Mary was not nursing her son, she placed Him in an unused feeding trough (of wood or stone) right next to her…But a feeding trough! Let us never be surprised at the humility of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks (Question 27) Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’ Its scriptural proof text for that ‘low condition’ is Luke 2:7. In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of diaper. How very incarnate the incarnation is! And yet what encouragement is here. For if Christ stoops so low, to such a ‘common’ level, does this not sanctify all that seems common and ordinary and unimpressive in the lives of His people? To be quaint and go back a few years–the weaver laboring at his loom, the farmer putting up hay, the mother cleaning her oven, or the teacher tutoring her ‘slower’ student in reading, the accountant preparing tax returns, the pastor reading in his study, the doctor diagnosing a perplexed patient. Jesus’ feeding trough suffuses all the glamorlessness of our callings with a touch of His humble glory.” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Luke 1-13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor”, pp. 46-47, blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks, same as above) 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 — (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/21/hope-for-today-faith-produces-perseverance/

(I love this one by Tozer!) 

The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (blogged by beingcreatedinhisimage https://deepcallstpdeep.wordpress.com/2022/01/21/removing-the-veil/

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/22/leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms-2/

(Thank you Lord for your grace, your grace, your amazing grace!) 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

Compassionate and Gracious

Like a lover, totally focused on the beloved, leaning forward wanting to hear every word, every sigh.

He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:7-8 (ESV) 

And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness … “ Exodus 34:6 

The psalmist says that God made his ways and acts known to Moses. God always wants to be known. I am thinking that I should pay attention when God defines himself. God describes himself this way: compassionate and gracious (or merciful), slow to anger and abounding in love. I looked at the first two attributes and was overwhelmed. I would like to save the second two for a future blog. 

The first two words are the Hebrew rachum and channun. These two words are each used thirteen times in the Old Testament. Linked together, to describe God, they are used twelve times. Alone or together, they are always only used as attributes of God. Rachum means full of compassion, merciful; channun means gracious, “as hearing the cry of the vexed debtor.”i 

John J. Parsons has this to say about these concepts: 

“Notice first that the LORD calls himself rachum v’chanun, often translated ‘merciful and gracious.’ The noun rechem means ‘womb’ in Hebrew, indicating that God’s compassion is like a mother’s deep love for her child. The word chanun (from chen, grace or favor) indicates that God is a graceful giver who is favorably disposed to help those in need. God is compassionate and favorable to those who call upon Him.” — John J. Parsons, Hebrew for Christiansii  

The adjective rachum comes from the verb racham, to love, to have compassion, or to compassionate. A.W. Tozer explains it this way: 

“According to the Old Testament, mercy has certain meanings: to stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon and to be actively compassionate. It used to be a verb form of the word compassion, but we don’t use it anymore — maybe it’s because we don’t have the concept anymore. God actively ‘compassionates’ suffering men — I like that wonderfully well. For God to feel compassion at a distance is one thing, but for God actively to compassionate with people is something else.”– A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God  

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9 

The second word, channun or gracious – hearing the cry of the debtor and being favorably disposed to help – reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 of the man who came before the master with overwhelming, impossible debt. But when he cried out for mercy “the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” 

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 

The compassion and grace of God are tightly woven together. God’s rachum, the deep love of a parent for a child, moves him to be gracious. Tozer notes in his book, The Attributes of God, that grace and mercy are not things that God does, but who God is. God is forever the compassionate Father favorably disposed toward those who cry out to him, always welcoming home the prodigal. 

And Jesus was saying to us, ‘You went away in Adam, but you’re coming back in Christ. And when you come back, you’ll find the Father hasn’t changed. He’s the same Father that He was when you all went out, every man to his own way. But when you come back in Jesus Christ you’ll find Him exactly the same as you left Him–unchanged. And the Father ran and threw his arms around him and welcomed him and put a robe and a ring on him and said, ‘This my son was dead, and he’s alive again’ ([Luke] 15:24). This is the grace of God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (emphasis mine) 

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11 

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to confidently draw near to God because of these two attributes. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy (pity, compassion) and find grace (kindness, “the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is ‘always leaning toward them’”)iii to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 

Isn’t that amazing and wonderful? The word for “grace” in the Greek includes the picture of God “freely giving himself away to people” and “always leaning toward them.” Like a lover, totally focused on the beloved, leaning forward wanting to hear every word, every sigh. Like a parent leaning forward to catch the newly walking toddler. Like the father leaning forward, straining to see the very first glimpse of his returning child. 

For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him. 2 Chronicles 30:9 (ESV) 

… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:12-14 

Come back. If you have wandered far away, come back. If you are near, but have hardened your heart, come back. Come. Jesus has freely given himself for you on the cross. He is leaning toward you. He is the same unchanging God that introduced himself to Moses, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” 

Salvation

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Not Karma

Pay them back what they deserve, O Lord, for what their hands have done. Lamentations 3:64 

Jeremiah, the prophet whom God sent to warn Israel of impending disaster, had, for his troubles, been made a captive, thrown down into the bottom of a muddy, empty well to die, been beaten and put in stocks, mocked and insulted. And here he cries out to the Lord for vengeance. “Give them what they deserve Lord!” 

That is our natural reaction to mistreatment, isn’t it? Hoping they get what they deserve; hoping that karma will do its thing. The problem is, it is a two-way street. Reading this, I all of a sudden saw the contrast between Jeremiah’s natural reaction and the cry of Jesus from the cross: “Father forgive them!” 

Jesus was cruelly treated too, but he said something different. He pleaded for God to forgive. He didn’t cry out for karma or revenge. Jesus showed us another way. “Father forgive them!”  

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Jesus came as the exact representation of God. Jesus came to show us what God is really like. “Father forgive them!”  

Jeremiah didn’t have that. But we do because of what Jesus did on the cross. It is the “Good News,” the gospel message. You are forgiven. They are forgiven. Jesus made the way for our forgiveness, and gives us the power, through his Spirit to forgive. We don’t have to trust in, or be the victims of karma. We may have done really horrible things, and people may have done horrible things to us, but God hears the cry of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them!” 

You are forgiven. Come and receive what Jesus did for you by dying on the cross. If he or she or they have mistreated you, forgive, let it go, put it God’s capable hands. Let God love them back home, just as he is doing for you. That’s quite a bit different from karma. Karma wants revenge. God wants redemption.  

Lord forgive us and make us a new creation. Give us the power to say with you, “Father forgive them!” 

What does the Bible say about Karma?

Image, Niagara Falls, by Boris Kasimov  https://flic.kr/p/2g3fgeL

Yet You Are Near

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) 

The Lord is near (in place, in time, in personal relationship, in kinship, father, brother, friend) 

to the brokenhearted (the heart, mind, soul that is broken, maimed, crippled, wrecked, crushed, shattered) 

and saves (delivers, liberates, gives victory to, defends, helps, preserves, rescues, keeps safe, brings into the spacious place, open, wide, free) 

the crushed (crushed to dust, destroyed, contrite) in spirit. 

When your heart is broken and shattered by this world. When your spirit is crushed into the dust. When you feel like your life is over, that you have messed up irretrievably, and God has turned his back in disgust. Yet – beyond understanding, unfathomable, amazing grace! – that is when God is near. 

Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. Psalm 119:151 

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6 

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 

… the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. Deuteronomy 30:14 

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 

He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Isaiah 50:8 

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (ESV) 

Yet … 

Come near to God Salvation

Image, The Prodigal Son by Sir John Everett Millais. Released by the Tate https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-the-prodigal-son-a00811 Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Every Heart

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Genesis 3:8 (ESV) 

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day about cancel culture. The first person says, “I hate cancel culture.” The second one answers, “The very first Bible story is God cancelling two people over an apple.” I wanted to put in a good word for God here.

What this meme defines as “cancelling” was God closing the doors of the Garden and not allowing Adam and Eve back in. They had just sinned, separating themselves from God, causing a rift in the relationship. And they showed a distressing tendency to continue on that path, refusing to admit their responsibility in the matter, pointing fingers at each other.  

God did not want them to eat of the tree that would give them eternal life in that state. They would have been eternally separated from God and his love for them. Isn’t that the definition of hell? It was an act of mercy and compassion banning them from the Garden and locking them out. He was giving them a chance; he was giving them time to turn, time to realize what they had lost. Until God would come back into another garden and open the door again by offering Himself up as the atonement. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. John 18:1-3 (ESV) 

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. John 19:41 (ESV) 

You are invited to turn around and come back into the garden and walk again with the One who loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.  

“God now fills the recovered garden, and we may without fear walk and commune with Him in the cool of the day.” — A.W. Tozer 

Come back  Salvation

Image, hand-colored lino print by Sheila Bair. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved. 

The Assumptions of Grace

Ever wonder what grace really means?

(This post is reblogged with permission from Seedbed https://www.seedbed.com/the-assumptions-of-grace/)

Philippians 4:23

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

CONSIDER THIS

And so it ends as it began, by grace:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

I wish I better understood this little word we so readily throw around in the Christian faith. It has come to mean so much that it means almost nothing. I assume I know what it means, and so I just mouth the words and move on. I mean, I get it, right? You too?

Paul begins and ends every letter he writes with these same words, yet there is nothing standard about these kinds of greetings. He is not saying, “Hello again, hope you are well,” or “Thanks for everything; wish you were here.” He is not extending his own grace to us. He greets us with the very grace of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The little word is loaded with assumptions, and, lest I regularly reexamine them, the word becomes little more than my own presumption.

So what does grace assume? Here goes. It assumes I know I am a sinner; that I was born a sinner; that I am a sinner, not because I sin, but that I sin because I am a sinner. Grace assumes I understand I am a son of Adam, infected with sin-cancer from the start, born with a terminal illness, and destined for destruction. I am, by nature, a child of wrath. It’s not that God hates me; he loves me so much he will not allow me, a depraved sinner, to stand in his presence; for in his presence I am destroyed.

God is holy. This is his nature. Just as a fire consumes anything it is fed, so the holiness of God consumes whatever is not holy. And grace assumes I know that there is absolutely nothing I can do to make myself holy. Grace assumes that I understand that, apart from grace, I am hopeless. The holy God of the universe will not tolerate sin, not because he chooses not to but because he cannot, for to do so would be to deny his nature. The wrath of God is not an emotion but a simple fact of his existence.

Grace also assumes I know I am loved. I was loved at my birth, despite my sinful nature, and loved every day of my life, despite my sin; and loved in and through my recalcitrant, rebellious resistance. Grace wants to make sure I know I am loved, not because of anything I have ever done or not done; nor am I not loved because of anything I have ever done or not done. Grace assumes I know I am loved because it is God’s nature to love me.

Yes, grace assumes I know that God is holy and God is love and that these two eternal verities have been made known to us in this gospel: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Grace assumes I know that understand that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). 

Grace assumes I get it that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Grace is the unmerited, unmitigated favor of God for sinners like me and you. The more we recognize our sin, the more we recognize our need for God’s grace; the more we recognize our need for God’s grace, the more grace we are given; and the more grace we are given, the more we become the agents of his grace in the world for others.

When Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen,” this is what he means.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is grace and truth, holiness and love, God and man, giver and gift. Thank you for the cross where we find grace on grace on grace. Thank you. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Are you growing in your grasp of the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
  2. How has Paul’s letter to the Philippians most encouraged you? Challenged you?
  3. What is your top takeaway from this letter and our journey through it?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief

Image, Baby’s hand, by Fruity Monkey on flickr https://flic.kr/p/99tqDR

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