Grace Through Wisdom and Insight

Maybe it’s just me, but most often don’t we tend to take credit for what we know? After all it’s our intelligence that makes sense of stuff, right? Our cognitive abilities that allow us to process data and come up with information. Isn’t it? Or is it?

Maybe it’s grace. Wonderful grace. Marvelous grace. Glorious grace. Super-abounding, abundant, lavished upon us grace.

Here’s what I’m chewing on this morning:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ . . .

(Ephesians 1:7-9 ESV)

I’ve written of it before, reading these opening verses of Ephesians is like drinking from a fire hose. How could it be anything less when you’re trying to take in what it means to be blessed “with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3)?

But what strikes me this morning is the link between grace and wisdom and insight.

It’s “according to the riches” of God’s grace that we have redemption through the blood of Christ. Grace manifest in a King who came not to be served but to serve a rebellious kingdom even “giving His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Grace displayed by a Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep (Jn. 10:11). Grace conveyed through God’s own Son, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, upholding the universe by the word of His power,” yet making purification for our sin by, Himself, bearing the wrath our sin deserved (Heb. 1:3).

But what good is grace manifested if it’s not recognized? What good is grace displayed if eyes are blind? What good is grace conveyed if heads and hearts are too thick and too hard to receive it? What good is it if no one is capable of picking up what’s being laid down?

And the thought that’s overwhelming me this morning is that, at least in part, the way God lavishes His grace upon us is by giving us the wisdom and insight to recognize His abundant grace.

And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

(Ephesians 2:8b ESV)

I would never have come up with the ability to articulate the problem of sin if God hadn’t made it known. Never in my wildest dreams come up with a solution of a holy and righteous God dealing with that problem in the giving of Himself. Never imagined that the God of creation would go to such lengths because of His desire to be in fellowship with His creation. Never have conceived that, beyond being redeemed, He also has purposed to bless me with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.

Who would have thought of such things? Not this guy.

And yet, I fear sometimes that this wisdom has become familiar, old-hat wisdom. That somehow, we fall into believing that this insight was something we were bright enough to grasp on our own and thus becomes a potential source of spiritual pride.

Instead, I’m reminded this morning that what I know, I know only by the determined counsel of God. That what I understand, I understand solely through the spiritual dynamic of illumination by the Spirit of God who patiently leads me into truth. That what I affirm, I affirm not because I figured it out, but because He has lavished the riches of His grace upon me with all wisdom and understanding.

How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them,
they are more than the sand.   (Psalm 139:17-18a ESV)

Grace through wisdom and insight.

By the grace of God. For the glory of God.

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Walking with the Wind

If He’s more like a breath than a beacon, then how do we know when He’s been leading us? If, though we sense His presence, we don’t actually know where He comes from or where He goes to, then how can we know for sure it’s Him who’s been guiding us? If the Spirit of God operates like the wind (Jn. 3:8), then how do we walk in Him?

Some questions I’ve been chewing on as I read the latter portion of Galatians 5 this morning. It’s what I’m noodling on as Paul continues to exhort the Galatians to allow what began by the Spirit to be “perfected” by the Spirit (3:3).

“Walk by the Spirit,” Paul says (3:16). Be “led by the Spirit”–that’s what Paul wants for believers (3:18). What’s more, he writes,

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

(Galatians 5:25 ESV)

Sounds like pretty concrete, objective exhortations to me.

But, when all is said and done, isn’t Paul asking us to keep in step with something, actually Someone, who the Bible describes as moving like the air (pneuma is the Greek word translated Spirit . . . as in pneumatic)–though it be divine air? So, how are we to know when we’re walking with the Wind?

For sure, we know that we have been sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). And we know that He has been given as a deposit of the presence of God guaranteeing what is yet to fully come (Eph. 1:14). That the Spirit actually lives in us (Rom. 8:9), and interacts with our own spirit through some active, mysterious dynamic (Rom. 8:16). We know too that He’s come as a Helper (Jn. 16:7), an Intercessor (Rom. 8:26-27), and as a Teacher who will lead us into all truth (Jn. 14:26, 16:13).

But walk by the Spirit? Be led by the Spirit? Keep in step with the Spirit? How do you know when that’s been happening?

At least part of the answer, it seems from my reading this morning, lies in the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul explains in Galatians 5:16-26 that a war rages within the Christian. A battle between the Spirit of God and the nature of our old man, the flesh. They have opposite desires, operate out of incompatible motives, and manifest themselves through very different types of behavior.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .

(Galatians 5:19-21a, 22-23a ESV)

It seems to me that, while it might be hard to know for sure at any given moment if we are walking with the Wind, the evidence that we have been eventually becomes pretty apparent.

Governed by lust? Consumed with idolatry? Marked by strife, or jealousy, or rage, or rivalries and envy? Prone to drunkenness? Then it’s a pretty good indicator that I’m not walking with the Wind. Even if on the outside I’m pretty good at faking it, if, when I’m honest with what’s going on in my heart, I see these things on the inside, then I probably haven’t been keeping in step.

But, if instead there’s some evidence of a measure of increasing love, joy, and peace . . . if I’m surprised by patience, kindness, and goodness that really wasn’t all that me at one time . . . if I seem to be more and more marked by a desire for faithfulness, a demeanor of gentleness, an ability to exercise some self-control . . . then maybe, just maybe, it’s an indicator that I’ve been walking with the Wind.

Nothing to boast of in the fruit. I can plant the seed with holy desire, water it with the Holy Word, but ultimately it’s God, through His Spirit, who gives the increase.

So, while not a cause for boasting, the fruit of the Spirit is cause for rejoicing because it indicates that I have been walking with the Spirit, been led by the Spirit, and, to some degree, keeping in the step with the Spirit.

I’m thinking it’s one of the ways we know we’ve been walking with the Wind . . .

And that, by His grace. And that, for His glory.

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The Table Is Enough

He could have wanted more. He could have had more. But for Mephibosheth, the table was enough.

He was the son of Jonathan, the grandson of King Saul. If not for the determined counsel of God, the throne would have been his one day. But it was not God’s will. And the line of the throne was transferred to David after Saul’s rebellion and disobedience to God.

It wasn’t even God’s will that Mephibosheth should be able bodied. When he was five years old, just after his grandfather and his father had been slain in battle, his nurse fled with him in case someone determined to entirely eradicate all competition for the throne. So she took him up, “and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame” — as in “crippled in both feet” lame (2Sam. 4:4, 9:13).

But King David had shown him kindness for Jonathan’s sake (2Sam. 9:1).

Beyond allowing him to live, and thus potentially compete for the throne, David also allowed him to keep the land which was his inheritance. But, what was over the top, is that the king invited this guy who was lame in both feet, who couldn’t do anything but crawl to get himself anywhere, to reside in the palace and to dine each night at the table. The table which covered his immobilizing defects. The table, the place he would partake of a feast fit for a king in the presence of the king.

But when David had to flee because of Absalom’s coup, Mephibosheth could have seen an opportunity to have more. Perhaps the dysfunction in the line of David might provide an opening for the line of Saul to be re-established. That’s what Mephibosheth’s traitor servant, Ziba, told David when David asked why the young man was not fleeing with him. And so David, gave the inheritance to Ziba.

But, for Mephibosheth, the table was enough.

Reading this morning that from the day David fled Absalom until he safely returned, Mephibosheth “had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes” (2Sam. 19:24). He had known the abundant grace of the king’s table, he wouldn’t attempt to usurp the king’s throne. And so he mourned and fasted as the king was absent from his rightful place as sovereign.

Then, upon David’s return, and with the treachery of Ziba exposed, David, in a rash attempt of justice, decided that Mephibosheth and Ziba should split the inheritance and “divide the land.” To which Mephibosheth replied, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home” (2Sam. 19:29-30).

He could have had more–at least half the land. But the table was enough.

How come?

For all my fathers house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?”

(2Samuel 19:28 ESV)

Doomed to die.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a ESV)

Lame in both feet, unable to do anything to earn or merit the king’s favor.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 ESV)

Of a competing line of leaders, the natural enemy of the king.

. . . while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son . . . (Romans 5:10a ESV)

But, all praise be to God, he had a place at the table!

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus . . . (Matthew 9:10 ESV)

The table is enough.

Nothing more we could want. Nothing more we could have.

Because of the King’s abundant grace. All for the King’s everlasting glory.

Amen?

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The Possibility and The Power

It really is an incredible aspiration. One of those goals that’s so out there, you wonder if Paul was serious about thinking anyone could attain it. But if Paul wasn’t serious, then he’s being somewhat melodramatic with the Galatians. A little over the top with his “tummy ache” analogy if he believes, deep down, that what he’s hoping for is really a long shot.

But what if Paul’s “drama” is founded? What if the heavy affliction he said he felt he actually felt. What’s more, what if it was justified because the outcome he longed for in their lives was achievable? Then it should cause me to pause. To be in awe of the possibility. And, what’s more, to be in fresh wonder at the power.

It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

(Galatians 4:18-20 ESV)

Paul likened it to labor pains. The anguish of childbirth. I’ve been present for five of those. Glad I was the coach and doing the empathizing and not the carrier and the one doing the delivering. The pain of childbirth is an excruciating pain. And that’s how Paul describes the inner agony he had for his children in the faith. And how come? Because he wanted to see Christ formed in them.

Chew on that. Christ formed in them.

The Son of God’s life visible in their life. Jesus the Messiah mirrored in men and women. His mind, His heart, His passion, His priorities–all fully developed in those He redeemed. That’s what Paul sought for those He had led to faith in Christ. And not as some pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and-by-but-probably-won’t-ever-happen outcome. No, Paul’s birthing symptoms were real because he knew that the possibility of Christ formed in you was real.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

(Romans 8:28-29 ESV)

The Galatians were called according to God’s purpose. And that purpose entailed the possibility of being conformed to the image of His Son. No wonder Paul was sick to his stomach at the thought they were being derailed from God’s grand possibility.

But here’s the other thing that hits me as I noodle on this. Paul wasn’t telling them to do more in order to achieve their potential. Rather, it was to believe again in the power of the gospel.

What had begun by faith, would be completed through faith. They had received the Spirit because they believed the gospel, and Christ would be formed in them as they continued to believe the gospel.

That’s why Paul was so bent out of shape at those who corrupted the gospel with the law. Who, in anyway, even insinuated that what had begun as a work of God could somehow be completed as a work of man.

The power of the gospel is a salvation for everyone who believes. A salvation from sin past, to a glory future, with a metamorphosis toward Christ-likeness in the present. A gospel which promises the righteousness of His Son, available to everyone who believes. A righteousness that is “from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16-17).

The gospel that justifies is the gospel that sanctifies. The power that declares us righteous in Him, is the power which makes us righteous through Him.

Christ increasingly formed in us is the possibility. The gospel of Christ is the power for us.

A possibility because of grace. A power to make known His glory.

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People Like Me

So, away on vacation I’m reminded that while I might like to think consistent devotions are a matter of spirituality and discipline they may be more about solitude and the absence of other desires.

Being with my girls, their husbands, and my grandchildren is such a blessing. But with the time zone change, we have some west coast toddlers without much regard for Hawaiian time. Thus, our days together, and I mean together together, start early . . . and I mean early early.  But the rewards of grandson huggle time are great . . . and I mean great great!  However, while fitting in a few minutes of reading time isn’t that hard, time at the keyboard can be a bit more challenging . . . and thus more sporadic.

This morning, though, it’s still quiet here (praise God for the discovery of a playground within walking distance that’s empty at dawn . . . and I mean dawn dawn) and so I’m chewing on David’s life in light of a book I just finished about someone else’s life.

The memoir I read was by someone who was quite influential in my life back in the ’80’s through a book he wrote. Didn’t know much about the man then except for the bio on the back cover and whatever I imagined his life to be like based on the thoughts and experiences he shared. In a nutshell, I imagined him to be a spiritual powerhouse, yet, after reading his memoir, his life, in many respects, was one train wreck after another–personal failure, family tragedy, repeated brokenness. And yet, the enduring under-current is one of faith, one of redemption, and one of God’s amazing grace in, repeatedly, making beauty out of ashes.

Kind of like King David’s life.

To be honest, I’m not really a big fan of the latter chapters of 2Samuel. Heroes and happy endings are supplanted by clay feet and family dysfunction. Starting with David’s sin with Bathsheba, just like the memoir I read, it’s just a series of train wrecks.

As if adultery and murder weren’t enough, then there’s incestual rape, murderous revenge, passive, ineffective leadership, and treacherous rebellion. All resulting in today’s reading (2Samuel 14-15) where David flees Jerusalem trying to ensure that his son’s coup remains a bloodless one (can’t wait until tomorrow’s reading.  Heavy sigh!)

Yet such are the people, the families, and the situations that remind us of a sin-corrupted world, God determines to use for His purposes and His glory. Just like the memoir I read. Reflective I’m thinking, to some degree, of our own lives.

Maybe that’s why something else I read this morning resounded so loudly.

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abrahams offspring, heirs according to promise.

(Galatians 3:24-29 ESV)

Our Savior became a curse to redeem us from the curse of train wreck lives (Gal. 3:13).

As such, our standing before Him is not dependent upon how much we have our act together, or can keep it together. Instead, we are justified by faith–and faith alone.

And despite sorrows, sufferings, and tragic situations–some of our own making, others not–we remain children of God because of that faith–and that faith alone.

What’s more, the balances of our lives, those we tend to look at to weigh the good, the bad, and the ugly, at the end of the day really mean very little for “if you are Christ’s, then you are . . . heirs according to promise.” Not according to our performance, not according to other’s approval and praise, not according to our view of what the perfect life should look like . . . but according to His promise. And that too, we cling to, and rest in, by faith alone.

Overwhelmed this morning by God’s grace and the people He uses–people like me–for His glory.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Amen?

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Proactive Praise

Would it be true to say that, most often, we praise God after something He’s done? That we thank Him, usually, as a response to having received? Not saying this isn’t right. Throughout the psalms there is exhortation to sing His praise as we remember His acts of deliverance. Worship is evoked as we reflect on His mighty works. But something the songwriter pens in Psalm 108 grabs me this morning and has me chewing on how good it is to practice proactive praise.

My heart is steadfast, O God!
   I will sing and make melody with all my being!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
   I will awake the dawn!   (Psalm 108:1-2 ESV)

David woke up singing! Rolled out of bed and struck up the band. Harp! Do your thing! Lyre! Come alive! Time to get up sun, we’ve got some praisin’ to do!

Ok, maybe not quite like that. But the songwriter’s picture is certainly one of starting the day with some serious worship going on.

I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the peoples;
   I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your steadfast love is great above the heavens;

Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
   Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let Your glory be over all the earth!   (Psalm 108:3-5 ESV)

And this start-the-day-with-praise attitude is all that more incredible when you consider that the season David is experiencing is not a “mountain top” one. In fact, there’s a war going on . . . literally. Later in the song he’s petitioning God for deliverance and help against his enemies. David’s doing hard life but still wakes up singing. How come?

My heart is steadfast, O God!

A steadfast heart, it seems, is an effective catalyst for proactive praise.

Firmly fixed on Jehovah. Securely determined to believe He is always in control. Unwaveringly confident that God is good . . . and good all the time.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31) If the LORD really is my light and my salvation, if He truly is my stronghold, then whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1) If no one can snatch me from the Great Shepherd’s hand (Jn. 10:29); if the One in me is greater than he who is in the world (1Jn. 4:4), then why wouldn’t I, despite the current season or circumstance, awake the dawn with thanksgiving and worship?

If I believe all that to be true, then my heart will be steadfast. My stability found in Him and Him alone.

And from a steadfast heart, proactive praise can usher in my day.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Content? Really?

Been hovering over one of those “shadow” verses. You know, the verse right after the one that everybody knows. Verses like John 3:17 . . . Philippians 1:22 . . . Ephesians 2:10. Verses like 2Corinthians 12:10.

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.

(2Corinthians 12:10 ESV)

After the all sufficient grace of verse 9, after the reminder of His power made perfect in our weakness, after boasting all the more gladly in frailty, feebleness, and even failure, I’m a bit stuck on Paul’s “so what” conclusion.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content . . .

Content? Really?

Can I go there? Content with my weaknesses, my hardships, my calamities?

Harder question to grapple with if I consider other translations. “I delight” (NIV). “I take pleasure” (NKJV, NLT, CSB). “I am well pleased” (YLT).

Ok. I’m not going to there. We’ll deal with “taking pleasure” or “being delighted” another time. For now, I’m just gonna chew on being content.

Even as I’m writing this, in the background Audrey Assad is singing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Is that what Paul is talking about? Is that the contentment he knew even with his nagging thorn in the flesh? More than just enduring resolve, is that the ability to embrace even the hard stuff because, through it, we experience the presence and power of God? I’m thinkin’ . . .

Content, not because it feels good. Content, not because I know it’s all gonna work itself out and go away. But content, for the sake of Christ.

If my greatest desire is to make Him known, weakness, and hardship, and calamity sets a pretty good stage for that to happen. If my heartfelt purpose is that He must increase and I must decrease, then anything which serves to demonstrate that His grace REALLY IS sufficient has to be a good thing. Something I can be content in. Who knows, maybe even something I can take pleasure in, or delight in (oops . . . said I wasn’t going to go there).

For the sake of Christ. Beyond myself and my comfort and my desires, but given over to Him, His purposes, and faith in His promised determination to complete a work in me which He has started for His own glory. For the sake of Christ.

Not looking for the “secret sauce” of contentment, necessarily. But it seems to me that a “well soul” is probably somewhat dependent on a well-focused desire–that in all things He be made known. If hard times are the platform for that to happen, then I can rest in them.

In my weakness, His strength. In my desert, His fountains. In my struggles, mercies new every morning and a constant reminder His great faithfulness.

And in that, there really is a contentment. (Delight? Pleasure? Might take a bit more to get me fully there).

Because He is God. Because He is good. Because His power really is made known in my weakness.

Thus, I can be content. Really!

Such is the nature of all-sufficient grace. To Him be all-deserving glory!

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