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.

That’s Life

My iPhone has an app on it that measures how much I exercise. Some days, I do really well and the app plots a point near the top of a graph. Other days, I don’t do so well and the app plots a point near the bottom of the graph. Most weeks, my graph looks like a roller coaster ride with some really good days tossed in with some really poor ones. When I look back over any given week, I can see some great highs and some disappointing lows.

If my phone had an app to measure my life and ministry, I imagine it would look about the same way. There would be some ups and there would be some downs. Peaks and valleys. Highs and lows. We’ve all experienced them. We know what it’s like to be on top of the mountain on one day and plunged into the valley the next. Perhaps Sinatra said it best when he said, “That’s life, that’s what all the people say, you’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.” All of us can identify with this roller coaster ride.

Perhaps no one knew this like Paul. When we look at his life and ministry, we see a man who was a great missionary and church planter. He carried the gospel around the Mediterranean world planting churches, training leaders, and discipling believers. In addition, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, we read that he has this awesome experience where he is carried into the presence of Christ and given great visions. These are definitely some mountain top moments.

But Paul’s life wasn’t all tremendous victories. He had setbacks and challenges along the way. As he traveled the world carrying the gospel, he was rejected and ridiculed. He was threatened and beaten, arrested and tried. In this passage in 2 Corinthians, he tells us that God has given him a messenger of Satan…a thorn in the flesh to afflict him and keep him humble. We’re not sure exactly what that thorn was, but it was severe enough that Paul prayed more than once to remove it.

Like Paul, we too know that highs and lows of life and ministry. Our struggles may come in different shapes and sizes, have different names, and come for different reasons than the one that afflicted Paul, but they come nonetheless. And, like Paul, we often know what it is to cry out to God for the removal of these thorns only to be met with a silence we don’t understand or an answer we don’t want to hear. When that happens, we need to understand something. Like Paul, sometimes God leaves our contexts unchanged so that He can grow us and demonstrate His power in the midst of them.

Jesus did not leave Paul with a simply no. He assured him…as He assures us that “His grace is sufficient.” When we talk about grace, most of us understand what I’ll call “saving” grace. We know that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Furthermore, we know too that we have “sustaining” grace. That is the grace that saves us keeps us saved. But along with these saving and sustaining aspects of grace, there is also grace for living. Grace doesn’t just usher us into the presence of God to leave us on our own. Grace strengthens us as we live our lives every day. It is in our weaknesses that Christ’s power is made perfect.

Don’t give up in the midst of your struggles and setbacks. Remember that His grace is sufficient. In our weakness, His power is made perfect. The challenges and difficulties are real, but Jesus is there in the midst of them all. Let us remained anchored in the grace He provides.

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

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)