Grace Upon Grace

abundanceWe hear quite a bit about the “prosperity gospel” today. That’s the belief advocated by many (particularly on television) that says God wants you to have health and wealth in abundance. And, if your faith is strong enough, He will bless you with those things. You name and you can claim it.

This is simply a false teaching. Yes, every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). Yes, God meets our needs (Matthew 6:33), both physical and material. Yes, He is the One who brings healing to our lives. But this view that God is nothing more than a cosmic ATM is simply wrong. It completely ignores the fact that Jesus died naked and penniless. His closest followers were martyred for their faith. The early church was characterized by its spiritual power, not its material wealth. Sadly, this false teaching presents a corrupted view of God and dismisses the reality of the trials we face in life.

We could talk at length about the role suffering plays in our lives as believers. And, perhaps we’ll look at that another time. But for now, I do want to highlight one thing God does give to us in abundance. It’s far greater and far more needed than health or wealth. It’s grace. The Apostle John writes, ” For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 ESV).

God gives grace in abundance. Abundant grace to cover our sin. Abundant grace to move us through trials. Abundant grace to raise us above yesterday’s hurts and failures. Abundant grace to move us confidently into an uncertain tomorrow. And, abundant grace to deal with all the circumstances of today. Let us be thankful  for that fact that through Jesus, we have received grace upon grace. For grace is definitely something He gives in abundance.

Long Days

Science tells us that there are twenty-four hours in every day. Actually, I’ve read some articles that suggests a day is actually about four minutes shorter than that, but you get the drift. Every day is the same length of time. But you don’t have to live this life very long to realize that some days are longer than others. As a kid, I remember that there were some school days that just didn’t end and the days leading up to Christmas were way longer than normal. We all know Mondays are longer than Sundays, the last few days before payday are longer than the first few after it, and the days spent in a hospital waiting room are longer than the ones we spend on vacation. I don’t care what the clock says. Some days are longer than others.

When we glance at a calendar, we don’t always see those long days marked out in advance. Sure, sometimes we see them coming. We know they’re lurking out there and we’ve circled them in red in our minds. But other times, we get up and get going and then find ourselves in the middle of a day that just won’t end. And sometimes, the day that just won’t end becomes a week…or a month…or a season that just won’t end. How do we get through these days?

I was recently reading the book of Isaiah and this verse caught my attention:

“O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2 ESV).

To be honest, one phrase caught my attention. The prophet pleas for God to be “our arm every morning…” His cry reminds us that every day is a day where we need the strength and support of God. Every day brings a new set of challenges. Every morning declares anew our need for God.

We need to understand that only seeking out God in a crisis or on a Sunday here or there won’t cut it. Don’t misunderstand me. We should indeed turn to God in our times of crises and we should gather to worship Him on Sundays, but we need more than just a sporadic connection with Him. We need His power and grace to touch our lives daily. Thus, Isaiah cries out, “be our arm every morning.”

The contemporary singer/song-writer Matt Maher has put a new twist on a familiar hymn of the faith. He writes:

“Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You.”

His words echo the sentiment of Isaiah’s plea. There’s a desperation in these words. A realization that we can’t go on without God. We need Him. Every hour…every morning…every day. Don’t neglect to turn to Him today. Avail yourself of His presence. Rest in the grace and peace He offers. Be strengthened daily by the salvation He provides in times of trouble. Because some days are longer than others.

Not Forgotten

My memory’s not what it used to be. It’s still pretty good, but it used to be really good. I used to be able to remember almost anything I wanted. I actually had a friend in college suggest I had a photographic memory (I didn’t, and my wife can attest to that). I still remember most things, but I’ve found I’m slipping. I don’t know if it’s age, a lack of attention, mental overload, stress or something else (or a combination of all of these), but I just don’t remember things like I used to.

Sometimes it’s easy to wonder if maybe God’s memory is slipping a bit too. We wonder if He’s forgotten us. Maybe He’s so distracted with the big stuff in the world He’s overlooked our little lives. Maybe He really meant to work in our situation, but it’s slipped His mind. So much for a big God to do in a really busy cosmos. Maybe all the important stuff He has to do has just pushed us right out of His mind. I mean after all, others have forgotten us. Maybe God has too.

I can’t help but think of the Old Testament character Joseph. After an array of troubles, he finds himself in a dungeon in Egypt. He’s been betrayed by his brothers, accused by his master’s wife, and abandoned by a man for whom he worked diligently. And, then in this dungeon, he helps out a cellmate by interpreting a dream for him. All he asks in return is that the man tell Pharaoh of Joseph’s plight. The Bible tells us that the man “did not remember Joseph, but forgot Him” (Genesis 40:23). Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. And Joseph is still sitting in that dungeon.

Forgotten yet again, it would have been easy for Joseph to add God to the list of people who had pushed him out of their minds. Yet he doesn’t. Instead, he manages to hold onto the hope that he’s not forgotten by God. Why? Because he knew that God hadn’t forgotten him. Others might have, but God had not. He was still firmly on the mind of the God who had created him and been with him through every one of his trials and tribulations.

You may feel forgotten and I may feel forgotten, but let me assure you (and me) that God has not forgotten us. He knows who we are, where we are, and what we are going through. He is still working in the midst of even the most challenging circumstances of our lives. He is unfolding His purpose for us and this world in accordance with His timetable. He knows what He’s doing. His memory is every bit as good as it has been since the dawn of time. He is as sharp as ever…and He’s not forgotten you. Remember that, because He remembers you.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7 ESV)

A Bigger God

We’ve all seen those pictures. You know, those cutesy little imaginative pictures on Facebook or Instragram where someone seems to be pinching the sun or holding the moon in their hands. The first hundred are fun. The thousands that follow, not so much. That’s the problem with pictures on social media. Once one person does it, every other person on the planet has to mimic the same pose. With that aside, these pictures teach us a valuable lesson about perspective.

We know that no one is really able to pinch the sun or to hold the moon. It’s the perspective of the camera to the person and the person to the object that makes the picture possible. The angle of the shot and our distance from the heavens make such an image seem real. Almost as if we’ve shrunk the sun and or the moon. We can’t shrink the sun or hold the moon in the palm of our hands, but our perspective makes it look as if we can.

In a similar way, we have a tendency to shrink God. We let our problems and our circumstances grow so large that they seem to dwarf the God that created everything that is. The very God that spoke everything into existence and holds the whole world in His hands is unable to deal with the problems of our lives.  He’s not big enough to move us through our circumstances. He’s not powerful enough to prevail over them. Our perspective has made Him a teeny, tiny little god who does the miraculous on the pages of Scripture or works His power out in the lives of others, but is unable to deal with the issues that confront us. From our vantage point, our problems are the center of the picture. They are dominant. God is the minuscule object in the background.

When my kids were little, they used to watch Veggietales. In one of the episodes, Junior Asparagus is facing a sleepless night because of his fears. Bob the Tomato calms him by singing “God is bigger than the boogie man. He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV. Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man, and he’s watching out for you and me” (if you’ve seen this episode, you’re singing right now aren’t you?). In the Bible, the Apostle Paul conveys the same idea (without the singing vegetables) in his prayer for the Christians in Ephesus. He writes:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

God is bigger than whatever it is you are going through. I don’t say that minimizing the seriousness of the issues in your life. I say that maximizing the power and the person of God. Don’t limit Him. Don’t let your problems and your circumstances dwarf Him. Don’t let your perspective shrink Him. You and I may not be able to pinch the sun or hold the moon in our hands, but God can. And, He can hold you and deal with the circumstances of your life at the same time. He’s a big God. Actually, He’s bigger than that.

God With Us

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23 (ESV)

There’s nothing like a great movie line.  You know, those iconic phrases that defy time and endure from one generation to the next.  Marlon Brando’s “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” from The Godfather.  Judy Garland’s “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” from the Wizard of Oz.  Bogart’s “Here’s looking at you kid,” and Eastwood’s “Go ahead and make my day” (from Casablanca and Dirty Harry respectively).  Some of those lines become so associated with the actor that the two become inseparable.  Take for instance, Greta Garbo.  The mere mention of her name brings to mind the phrase, “I want to be alone.”

The truth is, however, that none of us really want to be alone.  Deep down, most of us really desire not to be alone.  We want someone to be with us.  It’s amazing then that on a planet of eight billion people and more ways to communicate than ever before that we are more alone than ever before.  Texts, emails, internet chats, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and Skype don’t seem to fill the deepest longing of our hearts for someone to be physically present.  We want someone with us.

That’s part of the beauty of Christmas.  When Joseph learned that his fiancé was pregnant, he thought he might just quietly end the relationship and walk away.  But an angel came to him with a message that the child Mary carried was no ordinary child.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was the fulfillment to a promise made long ago (Isaiah 7:14).  This child was to be called Immanuel.  Immanuel means “God with us.”

The Bible is full of passages where we see God’s desire to be with His people.  He walked with Adam and Eve.  He had a tabernacle built so He could dwell in the midst of His people.  And, in fulfillment of that promise made long ago, He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  Where our natural inclination is to run from God because of the sin in our lives, He comes to us.  We defy Him and hide from Him, yet He comes for us.  Why?

The angel told Joseph that this Jesus would come to save His people from their sins.  God came to us and He came for us.  He came to pay the price so we could be with Him forever.  Our sin drives us from God.  Our tendency is to run and hide from Him.  And there, in our fears and isolation, the reality sinks in.  We are alone….alone and longing for someone to reach out and be with us.  We want someone to come near and fill the void in our lives.

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be apart from God.  We don’t have to be alone.  We don’t have to run and hide.  He has come to fill the void in our lives.   He has met our greatest need and He is with us.  We are alone no more.  He is Immanuel. 

Further Reading:  John 1