Grace Training

Been away for the past few days with some of my girls. Hard to get to my computer, but have been enjoying working my way through Titus.

And, if I’m picking up what Paul has been laying down for Titus, then grace and good works go hand in hand. To be a fan of one, should lead to the embrace of the other. To revel in God’s unmerited favor is to respond in accord to God’s unambiguous commands.

Might seem a bit counter-intuitive. We tend to think of grace being the antithesis of works. That abiding in grace is ceasing from all effort. And while it’s true that no amount of good works are going to earn acceptance with God, it’s equally true than when we get grace, grace is going to compel us towards good works. Paul calls it grace training.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . .

(Titus 2:11-12 ESV)

While grace is the means to salvation, it is also our mentor towards godly living. While we enter the holy of holies on the merit of Christ’s finished work alone, when we enter the world we do so renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions. While we look for a place and time yet to come, we live in accord with its principles and tenets even now. And it’s grace that teaches us how.

Paul talks about the manifestation of grace later in his letter to Titus. Grace arrived on the scene when the Savior appeared. It saved us not because of our righteous deeds and merit, but according to its own righteous way and mercy. It saved us “by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit” not by the weighing of our works and the rewarding of our best effort. Rather, being justified solely by grace through Christ our Savior, we became “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:4-7).

And then Paul pens this great implication to such great truth:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(Titus 3:8 ESV)

Insist on grace alone, says Paul, and those who believe it will be motivated towards good works, as well. Grace teaches us to live godly lives. It trains us to seek after righteousness.

Good works, then, come as a response. If He died for us, how can we not want to live for Him.

Godliness, then, emerges as a reflection. Having rescued us from the bondage of sin, He now delights to reshape up is in the very image of His Son. The more we become like Jesus, by grace, the more we we will act like Jesus, known for our good works.

To live in grace and do nothing for God is to not really get grace at all. For the grace that has appeared, is grace that teaches us to pursue godly living in anticipation of the glory soon to be revealed.

Grace training. Every child of God has been enrolled in it.

God’s glory. The reason we should all desire to be good students of it.

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Appealing Speech

It doesn’t make for good news headlines, but if more heeded the sage’s counsel, it probably would make for a better world.

Inflammatory speech is big business nowadays. Outrageous rhetoric is sure to make the front page (for those who still read newspapers). Whoever thought that 140 character sound bites could stir up so much collateral reaction? And with the world wide web, everybody has a platform . . . a soap box . . . a pseudo-legitimacy to enter into any number of battle fields in which words are the preferred weapons. Maybe that’s why the opening verses of Proverbs 15, and their counter-cultural wisdom, jumped off the page this morning.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. . . .
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

(Proverbs 15:1, 4 ESV)

A soft answer. A gentle tongue. Doesn’t that sound like appealing speech?

Tender talk has a way of diffusing escalating tension. It says “return to sender” and refuses delivery of wrathful words.

A gentle, or healing tongue is more concerned with remedy then it is rhetoric. With building up, than tearing down. With reviving, than reviling.

Civility, it seems, is fast becoming a non-value in our world. And calm, quiet, thoughtful conversation just seems to be regarded as counter-productive to achieving one’s goals.

And the answer isn’t going to be found in courses on how to communicate or negotiate more effectively. The silver bullet isn’t going to come from “active listening” skills. Because it’s not really a mouth problem, it’s a heart problem.

” . . . for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”   ~ Jesus

(Luke 6:44-45 ESV)

A soft answer comes from a soft heart. A gentle tongue is the evidence of a gentle soul. Peace-making words have a way of flowing from someone at peace.

So, we don’t need more “good headlines”, we need more good news. For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation . . . and sanctification . . . and appealing speech. By faith, it turns hearts of stone, and tongues of fire, into hearts of flesh, and tongues of healing.

If anyone should model a soft answer and a gentle tongue it should be the child of God, the follower of Christ, those called to be the light of the world. We need to beware of the old nature’s tendencies to buy into the value our culture places on bombastic bullying and no-holds-barred debate.

Rather,

The Lords servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

(2Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)

Might not make the news at 6, but may be used of the Spirit to draw people to Christ.

Words seasoned by grace. Words spoken for His glory.

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Mucking the Stalls

I know nothing of what it’s like to own an ox, but I have been around someone who owns a horse. And while riding those beasts might be fun and games (ok, and sometimes a lot of work), it’s a whole different world when you gotta clean up after them. Stalls can be really nasty places. It’s where those horses eat, and drink, and . . . . do other stuff. So maybe I’ve got a bit of context for picking up the word picture the sage is trying to lay down this morning.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
  but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

(Proverbs 4:4 ESV)

It’s easy to keep clean the barn that is uninhabited. But it might be worth a bit of mess in the stable if the result is food on the table.

And, it might be wise to expect that as we seek to walk in a manner that’s worthy, it’s gonna come with it’s fair share of waste. But that dealing with the dust and dirt along the way is all part of reaping the harvest at the end.

Sure, it would be easier to not have to clean up after situations. To not have to replace bedding that’s been soiled and broken down over time. To not have to deal with unpleasant, and sometimes unexpected messes. But if the price for clean stalls are vacant silos, isn’t that too high a price to pay? Would a hassle-free life really be worth an empty existence?

Not that it makes the mess any less. Not that it eases the pain of dealing with the unavoidable consequences of doing life. But with an eye to the harvest, dealing with the bedding becomes doable. Remembering what lies ahead is great motivation for leaning into the seeming chaos of the present.

And here’s the thing, we’re not left on our own to deal with the collateral disorder that can come from doing life. The dirt left as a result of sin can be cleansed by the blood of Christ. The disarray that comes from separation can be re-ordered by the Comforter who draws near. The disorientation that caused by un-wanted circumstance can be realigned as we set our hearts afresh on things above. And the disillusionment that so often raises its head as we run the race can be diffused as we remember the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake as we strive for the prize.

It’s going to be worth it all. We want oxen in the stable, and all the mess and effort that comes with them, because we believe their will be a great harvest. We’re willing to try and pick up the pieces along the way, because we’ve been told it’s worth putting our shoulder to the plow.

Not based on any merit that is ours. But founded solely on the majesty that is His. Not because of what we can do. But only because of what He has already done.

“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”   ~ Jesus

(John 16:33 ESV)

And so, we’ll keep mucking the stalls as we watch for the harvest.

By His grace. For His glory.

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An Agapao Spectrum

Hovering over Paul’s final words to Timothy this morning. Thinking about this man who knew his “departure” was at hand–ready to be loosed from his earthly moorings and to set sail. Reflecting on what it was for him to have fought the good fight, to have finished the race, and to have kept the faith.

But also thinking about another man. Lesser known, yet equally on mission. But with a different legacy . . . at least at this point in his life. Demas, while a co-laborer with Paul, goes AWOL in battle, he bails out on the race, he seems to falter in the faith. In this closing part of this letter, he’s identified as one who abandons and forsakes Paul. He’s marked as a deserter.

So why the difference? How come Paul and Demas end up in such different places? Seems, at least in part, it was a love issue. And in that, I observe an Agape Spectrum.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

(2Timothy 4:7-10a ESV)

Paul was anticipating receiving a crown in glory because he loved His appearing. Whereas Demas high-tailed it for home because he was in love with this present world.

The word for love in both cases is agapao. The highest form of love. Different than sensual love, greater than brotherly love, it is the love driven by what is highly esteemed and, as such, it is the love which drives acts of sacrifice.

Paul highly esteemed standing before the righteous Judge and so he was good with being poured out as a drink offering. His life viewed as but a small part of a greater sacrificial offering on heaven’s altar.

Demas, on the other hand, most highly valued “the world that now is.” He wanted to remain in this world rather than go to the other. He wanted to live longer here before going there. And hanging out with Paul put that priority at risk. So he was unwilling to remain. And so he made the required sacrifice. He walked out on Paul.

It’s not that Demas was necessarily a worldly man or in love with the sinful things of this world, he just wasn’t ready to leave yet. He loved the things of this life and wasn’t ready for the life to come.

And in many ways, I get it. We are wired for life. There’s something in our DNA which compels us to hold on to life. The issue is which life commands our heart?  This life or the one to follow?

And I’m not judging Demas.  And I don’t think Paul does either.  I think Paul is more grieved at Demas’ departure than anything else.  For only by God’s grace, and the Spirit’s over-riding enabling, can we loosen our grip on the life we know and truly walk in the anticipation of the life we are promised, but have yet to experience. Only by Divine intervention can I really set my heart and mind on things above, and not on things of earth, so that I “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1-2). So that I love and live in light of that Day. Making Spirit-empowered, sacrificial choices in the context of that reality which is yet to be fully real.

Oh, that I might live more on Paul’s end of this Agape Spectrum.  That I might be counted amongst all who have loved His appearing.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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Sharing our Showbread

Ok . . . so not quite sure where this is going to go, but this morning’s reading in 2Timothy led to an interesting rabbit trail. Spent a bit of time noodling on two connected things that I wouldn’t have thought connected and so started asking myself, why? Don’t know that I have a good answer, but here’s my thinking.

So, beyond their teaching and instruction, one of the things that grabs me about Paul’s two letters to Timothy is the insight they bring to the relationship between Paul and Timothy. The Paul/Timothy relationship presenting itself as a model of, and encouragement for, the mentor/mentee relationship. Thus, I take note of what Paul was laying down so Timothy could pick it up.

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra–which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.

(2Timothy 3:10-11 ESV)

Paul shared life with Timothy. Timothy accompanied Paul in doing life. He knew all about his talk and his walk. And, he also shared in the showbread.

What? Where did that come from?

Here’s what caught my eye this morning . . . it says that in addition to Paul’s teaching, conduct, faith, patience, love and steadfastness, Timothy also followed Paul’s “aim in life.” Other versions translate it, his “purpose” or, his “manner of life.” And I asked myself, “Self, what does it mean to share one’s aim in life? Is there any insight into it from the original language?”

So, using my handy dandy computer lexicon I looked up the word and “surprise, surprise, surprise!” It’s the word for showbread or, as the ESV translates it, the Bread of Presence. Yeah, it’s the word for the twelve loaves placed in the holy place, outside the curtain, across from the lampstand (Ex. 25:30, Lev. 24:5-9).

The word is found 12 times in the New Testament. Four times it’s translated the Bread of Presence, or showbread if you’re reading the NKJV.  Three times in the gospels, where Jesus talks about David eating the showbread (Mt. 12:4, Mr. 2:26, Lk. 6:4), and once in Hebrews, where the tabernacle is described (Heb. 9:2). The other eight times, in Acts and the epistles, the context causes it to be rendered purpose, and in 2Timothy 3:10, as aim in life.

So what’s the connection? Don’t know for sure, but thinking there’s gotta be one. So here are a couple of thoughts . . .

First, our aim in life, our purpose, should be brought into the holy place. It should be consecrated. Set before the place where the glory dwells and across from the lampstand from which the perpetual light of divine blessing shines. The “why we do” for “what we do” is to be holy. Set apart before God.

And it is to be constantly renewed. Just as the Bread of Presence was to be replaced every Sabbath with fresh bread, we’d also do well to renew our holy determination to submit our manner of life before our holy God on a regular basis. And weekly might not be a bad cadence for that. Shouldn’t our weekly gathering with God’s people always renew our desire to live our lives in God’s presence?

And from my reading this morning, the showbread is to be shared. I should be walking close enough with at a least a few people that they are intimately aware of my showbread, of my purpose and aim in life. Not only is my aim in life presented before God, it’s subjected to the scrutiny of those closest to me, as an example for others to imitate.

Lastly, just as everything in the tabernacle was consecrated through the sprinkling of blood, my purpose, my aim in life, my showbread, is also presented under the blood. Worthy of being offered before a holy God, only because it is offered through a great High Priest. One who has opened the way into the presence of God by His once forever atoning sacrifice for our sin. One who brings the offering, not on the basis of our good works, but on the basis of His finished work. Our showbread offered not because it’s holy, but made holy because it’s offered.

Hmmm. Something here to chew on, I’m thinking.

Our showbread, presented to God and others by His grace. Our aim in life, consecrated for His glory.

Make sense?

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Acting Presumptuously

You’re not going to find it among the seven deadly sins. I’m not sure if I started brainstorming and did a brain-dump of all the types of transgression against God I could think of, that I’d even list this one. But it jumped off the page at me this morning as I was reading in Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 9 is a re-telling of the old, old story. Literally! The walls of the city have been built again and the word of God has been found again. And nothing less than national revival has swept over the land as the evidence of God’s good hand surrounds them, Jerusalem. And so, knowing God is with them, they humble themselves to listen again to what God has had to say to them.

Ezra the priest reads the word. Those able to teach go among the people and make clear the meaning. The Spirit moves mightily in their hearts and brings a great awakening.

And revival has a way of creating a pendulum of a emotion–swinging from tears of joy as they behold the wall around them, the evidence of God’s presence, to tears of sorrow as they consider again the ways that haunt them, the sins of their past which led to the city’s destruction in the first place..

And this goes on for over three weeks. And on the twenty-fourth day they gather again in humility to hear yet more from the Book of the Law. And for six hours the word of God is read. And for another six hours they make confession and worship the Lord. And the Levites call the people to remember again from whence they came.

And so, beginning with the God of creation, they retell the story of Abram’s calling, and of God’s covenant. They recount their rescue from Egypt and remind them of God’s provision in the desert. And they recall the sin that surfaced.

“But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey Your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that You performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.”

(Nehemiah 9:16-17a ESV)

They acted presumptuously.

But God who is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love did not forsake them. Instead, in His great mercies, He sustained them in the wilderness for forty years, and then delivered them to the land of promise. He subdued the inhabitants and handed over the keys to their cities. And they “took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in [God’s] great goodness” (9:25).

Fat and happy. Yet they rebelled. And, though God sought to call them back to Himself repeatedly,

“Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey Your commandments, but sinned against Your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey.”

(Nehemiah 9:29b ESV)

Yet they acted presumptuously.

Can’t be too sure, because I’ve only spent a few minutes doing the word study, but it seems this is a sin unique to the people of God. For those outside covenant, the word is translated as simply acting arrogantly or acting proudly (Neh. 9:10). But for those who have known the good hand of God–who have been given ears to hear the promise . . . have seen His deliverance from bondage . . . have received His provision in the desert . . . have realized His presence in conquering their enemies . . . and have received of His abundance the good things in the land–for them, when the love of the gift turns their heart away from the Giver, it is acting presumptuously.

Having been blessed, it’s a pride causing amnesia, and they forget where the blessing has come from. An arrogance leading to self-sufficiency, and they think, “I’ve earned what I have, so I am more than capable of going it alone.” Delusions of grandeur bringing on blindness, the stuff on earth blocking out the treasures of heaven. Haughtiness resulting in transgression, as they divorce their prosperity from their Provider they become ready targets for idolatry.

Can’t really happen to those outside the kingdom of heaven. Those outside of Christ may be proud and arrogant, but only the child of God is susceptible to acting presumptuously.

Oh that I would beware of being presumptuous concerning God’s abundant provision. That, whether it is new life in Christ or lots of stuff in general, I would not forget that it is mine solely by God’s good hand.

Mine by His grace. To be stewarded for His glory.

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The Joy of the LORD

It’s not like they didn’t have just cause to mourn. Not like there was no good reason to grieve. In fact, under any other circumstance, their tears would have been the appropriate response to what they had just heard preached. Their brokenness, contrition, and lament, the right acknowledgment to what they had been reminded of. But not today.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

(Nehemiah 8:9 ESV)

The wall was finished–God had prospered them. The word was being proclaimed–and God was speaking to them. Their ways again before them–God reminded them of His faithfulness.

But as they comprehended afresh the connection between their transgression and their exile, between their adulterous rebellion and Jerusalem’s all-encompassing ruin, it overwhelmed them to remember again where they had come from. And so, they faltered in their recognition of where they were now. That they were standing again in the city–with the glory again in their midst behind the curtain, and the walls again about them in their land of promise. And so they wept.

But this was not to be a day of weeping. It was a holy day. A day of feasting. A day of remembering God’s faithfulness despite their failure. A day of rejoicing in God’s goodness to them. Not because they were good. But because He is good. It was to be a day of knowing the joy of the Lord. And in that, they would find strength.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” . . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

(Nehemiah 8:10, 12 ESV)

The joy of the LORD is your strength.

Last night I was talking to one of my girls and she said, “Dad. Life is hard.” Yeah . . . at times it is. Sometimes it’s our own doing and other times, it’s not. Sometimes it’s partnered with justified regret, but other times it makes no sense and is without apparent reason. Either way, not much to rejoice in, other than the joy of the LORD.

And it occurs to me that it’s important to observe holy days of feasting. Important to set apart times of feeding again on the things of God.

Important to find a place at the banqueting table. Yesterday, at our church, is was the Lord’s table as we remembered His great provision through the cross by taking the symbols of His body and blood.

Important to feed deeply on the meat of His word. Being reminded afresh of His ever-present power and provision, and of His unchanging promises .

Important to seek to satisfy our thirst with the rivers of living water flowing through us by the Spirit in us.

And so, being at the table, feeding on His word, drinking deeply of His Spirit, though our circumstances don’t change and our hearts are still heavy, we purpose to feast. To make times of remembrance and response. To reaffirm the presence, power, provision, and promises of our God. And in doing that, we can’t help but rejoice. To know afresh the joy of the LORD. And the joy of the LORD is our strength.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness

(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)

We need to find time to reflect again on the God who is with us at all times–even the hard times.  Without deposits of joy, the withdrawals of life can become overwhelming.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

(Proverbs 17:22 ESV)

Thank God for the holy days. Thank Him for the times of feasting, where sorrow is set aside for a time that we might remember that our God is good . . . and our God is faithful . . . and His mercies really are new every morning . . . and His grace really is sufficient in all things.

For in that, there is joy. And in that, there is strength.

By His grace. For His glory.

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