Delivered From Deserved Consequences

Until the good news of the grace of God seems too good to be true, we have not yet seen it in all its fullness. I once had an encounter with the Lord who showed me five wagons of spiritual blessing He wanted to release to the world. One wagon contained  “deliverance from deserved consequences” and truly seemed too good to be true. Will God deliver us from what we deserve? Yes. God forgives and restores. If He didn’t, no one would be redeemed and no one would make it to heaven.

            The Bible is clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Jesus said, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). These sobering words testify that we all need deliverance from what we deserve. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus provided the only way of deliverance from ultimate deserved consequences.

            True repentance is the key to experiencing this forgiveness. We must turn not only from whatever deserves His condemnation but also toward God and renew our minds completely. Without both aspects of repentance we will never fully experience both the depth of God’s mercy and the breadth of His redemption.

The Apostle Paul: Grace Enlarged

            Acts 7 introduces Saul of Tarsus as he approved the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen, an original deacon, was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. He did great signs and wonders and incurred the wrath of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9). They could neither refute his wisdom nor withstand the Spirit by which he spoke, so they framed him, accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Jewish high council.

            Stephen defended himself before the high priest. He outlined God’s plan through a discourse of the history of His dealings with Israel, beginning with Abraham and ending with the promise of the Messiah. Stephen rebuked them for having rejected the prophets of old and for killing the Messiah Himself. The council ground their teeth in anger as they cast him out and stoned him to death. Saul of Tarsus stood by, consenting to Stephen’s death.

            Afterward, Saul began a focused attack on the believers in Jerusalem:

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:1, 3)

            Saul gained letters of authority from the high priest and with demonic ferocity continued his vicious attacks. Then, miraculously, Jesus intervened on the road to Damascus. “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 9:3–5).

            Jesus’ intervention in Saul’s life reveals the marvelous depth of the mercy and kindness of God. Saul had done so much harm, not just to the disciples of the Lord but to the Lord Jesus Himself, who took Saul’s actions personally: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Isn’t It Hard for You?”

            I am shocked that Jesus appealed to Saul based on how difficult his life became as he persecuted the church. Jesus asked him, “Isn’t it hard for you to kick against the goads?” Isn’t it hard for you? How amazing is the heart of God for every person!

            Jesus had a profound destiny for this enemy of the gospel. He conscripted Ananias, a man of real faith, to rescue Saul. Ananias knew well Saul’s reputation. But he overcame his apprehension, obeyed the Lord, found Saul, and restored his sight:

And Ananias . . . laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. (Acts 9:17–20)

            Who more than Paul is the prototype of one delivered from deserved consequences? He was not just a sinner. He sought the destruction of believers in Jesus and the very faith Jesus suffered and died to establish. The apostle Paul constantly proclaimed this marvelous grace. He wrote: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:15–16).

            The salvation of Saul of Tarsus is a primary example of how far the mercy of God is willing to reach. His mercy still reaches at least that far for anyone today.

The Importance of Grace

            Grace has many manifestations but is most simply defined as “undeserved favor.” To qualify for it you cannot deserve it. Grace is the only basis of deliverance available to us. It only comes as a gift. We must trust God to experience the fullness of His grace. Jeremiah wrote about the significance of trusting God:

Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes [kjv: see good when it comes], but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer. 17:5–8)

            Jeremiah concluded that to trust ourselves is to put ourselves under a curse. The effects of the curse is not that God stops helping us, but that when we trust anything other than the Lord we lose the capacity to receive the help He continues to freely provide for us! Trust the Lord for He will truly deliver us from deserved consequences!

 

Reconstructing Hope

Reconstructing Hope

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The Lord wants to deliver people from what they deserve. That idea is central to the purpose of the gospel and embedded in the definition of grace. He wants to deliver people from deserved consequences. Who more than Paul is the prototype of one delivered from deserved consequences? He was not just a sinner. He sought the destruction of believers in Jesus and the very faith Jesus suffered and died to establish. The apostle Paul constantly proclaimed this marvelous grace. He wrote: "This is a faithful saying and worth of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life" (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

The salvation of Saul of Tarsus is a primary example of how far the mercy of God is willing to reach. His mercy still reaches at least that far for anyone today. Grace has many manifestations but is most simply defined as "undeserved favor". To qualify for it you cannot deserve it. Grace is the only basis of deliverance available to us. It only comes as a gift. We must trust God to experience the fullness of His grace. Jeremiah wrote about the significance of trusting God:

"Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strengtth, whose heart departs from   the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes [KJV: see good when it comes], but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit." (Jer. 17;5-8)

Jeremiah concluded that to trust ourselves is to put ourselves under a curse. The result is that we won't recognize good even when it comes. I have met people who first encountered Jesus and believed the gospel to the saving of their souls, but they turned from the grace of God to rely on their ability to keep the law for their justification. How tragic! It is a great deception to rely on obeying the Old Testament law to remain in fellowship with God. Paul the apostle confronted this heresy head-on:

"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace... This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you." (Gal. 5:3-4, 8)

We must not let anything frustrate the Lord's prescribed way to deliver us from what we deserve. God is the God of grace and wants to reconstruct our hope in Him and the power of the gospel to deliver us from deserved consequences. He is a good God!

 

 

 

 

God Wants to Know You!

The Lord isn’t satisfied with knowing about us. He wants to really know us. The following verses have captured my attention in a new way:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

The Lord makes a distinction between those who know Him and move in His power and those He knows personally. We need to be in both categories. It is important that we move in the power of the Holy Spirit so people can be set free and know the Lord. But, we can’t let that expression of knowing Him substitute for Him knowing us.

There is a difference in God knowing everything about us and God knowing us personally.  Hebrews 4:13 says that “…there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” God knows everything about us, but does He experientially know us?. He obviously distinguishes between knowing facts about us, even the secrets we have, from actually knowing us in an intimate way.  The word intimacy has been loosely translated ‘into me see’. He wants to have personal experiences and communications with us. We need to let Him see into us in that we communicate to Him who we are on ever increasing levels.

Consider the account of the Lord visiting Abraham and His concern about Sodom and Gomorrah.

“And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,

 “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18:20-21)

Even though the Lord knew the condition of Sodom and Gomorrah He wanted to know in a more personal way, so He went to experience it Himself.  It is not enough for our God to know about things. He wants to have relationships with people in every area of life so that He can know them personally.

Jesus is our access point into the Kingdom of God. Could it be that we are the personal access points, the doors if you will, of God’s access points into the world. He is our door up and we are His door down into the very affairs of life! A property owner may rent a house to someone. By so doing he limits his access to the property by virtue of the terms of the lease.  Though he owns the property He can’t barge in at will. I know that God owns everything by virtue of creation, but He has chosen to limit His access to all things human by the authority He gave humans.

Verses in Song of Solomon 2:14 reveal the Lord’s profound desire to know His people intimately:

   “… Let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

We are most clearly identified by our voice and our face. Your face speaks of letting the Lord really ‘see’ who you are. Your voice has the ability to tell the Lord who you are. He says that your face is lovely. Let Him see it. He says your voice is sweet. Let Him hear it. Tell Him who you are.

Have You Told Him

 What if the Lord only knew you to the degree you intentionally and audibly told him about yourself. How well would He know you? Have you ever intentionally told Him who you are? One reason we don’t is that we allow the truth that ‘He knows everything’ keep us from letting Him know us in a deep way.

I have known the Lord over 45 years. Recently my personal relationship has blossomed in a way I have always wanted. It is happening as I have chosen to tell Him who I am as though He knows nothing about me. The remarkable result is that He has begun to speak into my life in ways I didn’t expect. I realize that as I open up to Him in that way I am giving Him a more specific context to communicate with me.

I have said things like, “I was born on January 10th, 1951 in Anderson, SC. while my dad was the football coach at Erskine College…”. At one point in this new relational process I began to tell the Lord about parts of my past that I had been ashamed of. Then I said, “But then you’ve never felt ashamed because you’ve never done anything to be ashamed of!” He responded to me, “That’s not true Robin. I felt ashamed on the cross!” His response startled me but then I remembered the verse in Hebrews Heb 12:2:

 “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I understood the concept from my years of reading these verses and could quote it verbatim but it never really struck me that Jesus truly felt ashamed. Then the Lord told me that He needed to feel ashamed so that He could profoundly sympathize with those who felt ashamed. Who could not love this Jesus! Then He told me that in the cross He did something so wonderful that if a person fully understood what He had done for them they would never need to feel ashamed again. He put everyone’s shame to death in Himself as He died on the cross. He paid that price too.

Now It’s Your Turn

I know so many people who have suffered terribly destructive things in this life. Perhaps you are one of them. Many have asked Him for help and deliverance, but how many have actually toldHim what happened? Tell Him your story. Open up your heart and your mouth and tell Him who you are. If you do He may very well comfort you in ways you never expected. Let Him see your face. Let Him hear your voice. For He says, “Your face is lovely and your voice is sweet.”

Favor: Having It, Keeping It, Increasing It.

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The favor of the Lord enables us to accomplish His purposes and live supernaturally blessed lives. Over the years I have seen favor ebb and flow in my life, in lives of others, and in different ministries. How do you get it, how do you keep it, and how do you increase it? Inquiring minds want to know. Ask

How do you get favor? Every good thing comes from God: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). To have favor, we must ask: "Yet, you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2b). 

My Favor is for You

In the context of asking James also said, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:2b-3).  When we don't understand that God gives us favor primarily for others, we are in danger of losing or diminishing that favor. Motives matter. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:1&12, "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." And, "Even so you, since you are eager for spiritual gifts, let it be for the building up of the church that you seek to excel". In the context of the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote the love chapter, I Corinthians 13. The 'more excellent way' Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 12:31 is using the gifts of the Spirit in expressions of love for the benefit of others.  My favor is for you, and your favor is for them.

Being Thankful

John the Baptist said,  "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven" (John 3:27). We thank God to acknowledge that what we have, what we can do, and what we are, He has given us as a free gift.Being thankful also has the potential to increase our favor. "...God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble" (I Peter 5:5). Honest heart felt thanksgiving is manifest humility and attracts the grace of God.

Loving People Period

People know if we really love them. Peter wrote: "Honor all people..." (I Peter 2:17). Intentionally showing people honor is a very simple way to practically show them love. Then they are open to what we can bring them. Often we reserve our love for those we approve of or those who love us. Of that Jesus said, "...love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?...(Matthew 5:44-46). We will ultimately only influence people we truly love.

Bitterness Free Authenticity

The proliferation of social media has tainted this current generation like no other, either by hype or hypocrisy. Many long for authenticity and authentic believers. Becoming authentic is often a painful and expensive process, and many who have suffered have become bitter. God isn't interested in promoting people whose favor is soured by bitterness. Be real, but don't be critical. That will certainly diminish your favor level.

Imparting Hope

The level of our influence will rise to the level of our ability to impart legitimate hope, the joyful confident expectation of good. Hope is one of the primary missing ingredients in not just the world but the church as well. If we don't have hope we must realize we have bought into an inaccurate theoligical/cultural belief system. Hopelessness is its 'witness' that that belief system is false.

Hope is the atmosphere where favor thrives. We are serving the 'God of all hope' and living inside us is Christ 'the hope of glory'. Divine hope is part of our spiritual DNA. Let that hope arise in your heart now and may your favor increase.

Creativity

God by nature is the Creator. Every man woman and child is unique, created in God's image and yet different than anyone else. Even identical twins are different in ways too numerous to mention. Just as every snowflake is uniquely different, so are you and I. So is the creative ability He has given each of us. God gifted each of us with our own kind of creativity and the use of it is essential for our well being. A friend of mine once suffered with ongoing bouts of depression. He came to me for counseling about it. The Lord showed me that his particular brand of depression was attached to the lack of using his creative expression. He had become too busy to use his creative ability to write songs and draw, two things he enjoyed immensely. When he began to do those things again his depression lifted and a sense of joy returned to him.

Not having a creative gift prominent enough to be financially lucrative is no reason not to create things. Making money at it is not the point. No one needs to appreciate your creative expression for it to be important for you to do it.  Expressing yourself and enjoying the process is payment enough. You will experience the presence of the Lord when you create things. Let me explain.

Eric Liddell was a Scottish athlete, rugby player, and missionary. The movie Chariots of Fire depicted his life experience as a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was called the Flying Dutchman. His devotion to the Lord was tested when he decided not to run one race that was held on Sunday. As shown in the movie he was asked about his love for running track. He simply yet profoundly responded, "I feel God's pleasure when I run!" That was his realm of creativity and he felt the kindness of God when he did it. Others did as well when he ran. You too can feel the presence of the Creator when you use the creativity He has given you.

Donna and I watched the movie Jersey Boys, the story of the singer Frankie Valli and his group The Four Seasons. As the movie concluded and after the music ended I watched in surprise as a number of 70+ year olds literally danced down the aisles and out of the theatre. The movie reminded them of a joyful time in their lives and touched them so deeply that they danced in public when there was no music to dance to. And yet they were dancing to music, the music that resided in that creative part of their hearts. That is the power of creativity. It can even touch and release the joyful expression of youth, a force that laid dormant over fifty years. The creative expression they saw on the silver screen re-ignited something profound in their 70 year old hearts.

It did the same thing for me. I went home wondering how I could capture eras of joy that might bless me and touch other people's lives. I got an idea from watching them dance to begin creating photo collages of things from my youth that have the potential to touch that same joy. Now I make art that includes photos of the athletes I loved and enjoyed from my youth. The very act of creating those collages has given me a number of ideas for other creative things too. That is the power of creativity. Doing one thing like that will release ideas for others.

Go create something. Roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and get with it. You are created in the image of the One who created you. At the very least it will make you feel good.

Risk and Endurance: Faith and Hope.

John Wimber once said you spell faith 'r i s k'. He meant that to live by and act in faith we risk something. The risk could be financial, or our pride could be damaged if our venture doesn't work, or the risk could cost us our comfort or security. Living a life of faith will certainly cost us something. In light of John's comment I began to think about endurance and wondered if there is a word that embodies it in the way that risk embodies faith. That word is hope. You spell joyful endurance h o p e. The biblical definition of hope is the 'confident expectation of good'. Hope is a primary missing ingredient both in society and much of the church.

Hebrews 11:1 says that ...'faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' You may conclude then that your faith will not be any more substantial than your hope, since it derives its substance from it. Looking now at the relationship between faith (risk) and endurance (hope) we must realize that to function successfully in any faith venture we must maintain a high level of hope.

True biblical hope is a by-product of knowing God. He is a God of mercy. Many in our day try to please God by living up to certain standards contained in the law. The law is good and holy but has no power to help us live well or please God. Jesus did both of those for us:

"For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God" (Hebrews 7:18-19).

The good news, the gospel of the grace of God imparts hope, the kind that enables us to draw near to God who in turn will draw near to us. The work of Jesus was a perfect work that enables every believer to relate to God with a clear and clean conscience. There is nothing left to do. We must simply rest in the grace of God. When that reality is in us, then we will live in a way that pleases Him.