NO HIGHER HONOR

Some years ago my good friend Mike Neale penned a worship song titled “No Greater Audience”. If you aren’t familiar with it I suggest you ‘Google’ the title or “Michael Neale” and listen to the words. I cried the first hundred times I heard it – down to a lump in my throat now, and sometimes I do still tear up. The essence of the song has to do with praising God and the chorus speaks of having “no higher honor than to sing a song of praise to my King”
In a recent reading of a chapter in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis I was again reminded of the honor we have in serving the Lord. God has work that he wants done, and while he could certainly magically cause all that work to just “happen”, I believe He wants, even prefers for his children to “be his hands and feet”.
And what an honor it is to be used by God. Of all my experiences as a follower of the Lord, my greatest thrills and my most heartfelt moments have been in service to God. I taught a men’s 35 week discipleship class for eight years and I recall seeing men change their attitudes and their priorities. I had wives call me asking, “What have you done to my husband? – he isn’t the same man.” I would respond that it was the Lord’s doing – not mine, but inside I would feel this warm glow, knowing God had used Michael Warnock to do his holy work – there is no aphrodisiac like it.
I too could observe the changes in the men as they became less prideful and judgmental, more forgiving, tolerant, and loving.
Are you being used by God? It can start out small – serve a couple of hours in a soup kitchen or be a greeter in your church on Sunday mornings. Don’t you just love it when someone grabs your hand and welcomes you – or perhaps gives you a big hug? Well, I can promise you the person greeting you is just as delighted and they experience an inner joy that comes only from the Lord. He surely rewards those who serve him.
Be Blessed

Compromise

Compromise. I keep coming across the word compromise. Just today in two separate devotions the authors spoke of the church making compromises with world opinion.
News Flash my friends – we don’t make compromise with world opinion – any compromise we make is concession to Satan’s rule over this earth. The Bible makes it plain who rules this earth – Ephesians 2:2 calls him “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
Who do you think the “sons of disobedience” are??? They are the very people of world opinion who deny the Word of God, who twist and rephrase it to ‘tickle their itching ears.”
In Revelation John calls Satan the “deceiver of the whole world” (12:9) and Paul wrote to the Corinthians,”…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4).
Understand my friends, compromise means each side makes some concession. What may I ask you does Satan concede? He has yet to surrender his dark rule over this world and though he knows he is ultimately defeated, he has not given up on corruption of our hearts and minds and stealing our children and our neighbors. Furthermore what of God’s Word do we want to concede to Satan?
When you put on that whole armor of God remember it is against the rulers, against authorities, against powers of this dark world, and against spiritual forces of evil that we struggle
Make no compromise with this world. Stand firm – remember you are Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor 5:20), “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” (2 Cor 4:5).

True Faith

True faith is never an accident; it is intentional, willful, deliberate and uncompromising. It requires that we meet certain conditions, that we allow the teachings of Christ to dominate our total lives from the moment we believe. We must be willing to be different than others. The effort to enjoy the benefits of redemption while enmeshed in the world is futile. We must choose one or the other, and faith quickly makes its choice, one from which there is no retreat.

The change experienced by a truly converted man or woman is equal to that of a person moving to another country. The regenerated soul feels no more at home in the world than Abraham felt when he left Ur of the Chaldees and set out for the land of promise. Apart from his own small company he was a stranger to everyone around him. He was called ‘Abraham the Hebrew,’ and if he spoke the language of the people among whom he took up his dwelling place, he spoke it with an accent.
This journey from Ur to Bethel is taken by every soul that sets out to follow Christ. It is, however, not a journey for the feet but for the heart. The newborn Christian is a migrant; he has come into the kingdom of God from his old home in the kingdom of man and he must get set for the violent changes that will inevitably follow.

One of the first changes will be a shift of interest from earth to heaven, from men to God, from time to eternity, from earthly gain to Christ and His eternal kingdom. Suddenly, or slowly but surely, he will develop a new pattern of life. Old things pass away and behold, all things will become new, first inwardly and then outwardly; for the change within him will soon begin to express itself by corresponding changes in his manner of living.

The transformation will show itself in many ways; in what the new Christian allows to fill his mind, in where and how he spends his time and money. Old friends will scoff and ridicule him. Old haunts and practices now offend him.
We must all look in the mirror and ask that person looking back if we are indeed at odds with the world, are we like a fish out of water? Do we relate to this world with a pronounce accent that is discernable, obvious to all whom we encounter?

It is my prayer that your faith stands out like a giant among midgets. Blessings

My Grace is Sufficient

 “…because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

(2 Cor. 12:7-9 NKJV)

You know, if ever there was a Biblical passage in direct opposition to the prosperity message, that’s it. There is nothing here about success and wealth and comfort and ease and having it your way and seeing the fulfillment of all your dreams and desires and longings. This is about suffering.

Let’s focus on the very familiar verse 9 – “My grace is sufficient for you. . .”

We’re very familiar with the concept of grace – we talk about it, we sing about it, we use it repeatedly in our prayers and in our Christian conversation. We even have a church in Stuart named the Grace Place.

The word grace and its attentive forms, gracious and graciously appear over 175 times in the Bible – mostly in the New Testament. (Paul uses the term 87 times in his letters)  This Greek word is charis; it means basically a generous benefit given, a favor bestowed. It is the root

word from which we get our word charity. In a theological sense we must add the expository “undeserved” and “unearned”.

We are awakened from our spiritual sleep and our spiritual death by a work of God that could only be called a work of grace, undeserved favor. We are redeemed, regenerated, adopted, justified, converted, born again;

pick whatever term you want related to salvation and you will always be able to attach by grace, because we have no means by which to earn any of God’s favors given to us in our salvation.

We are even sanctified by grace because we are no more able to earn our way to spiritual maturity than we were to earn our way to salvation; that too is a work of grace. And our glorification in the future is a work of grace so that throughout all eternity the great wonder of all wonders is that we will be in heaven where God will pour out the fullness of His grace upon us forever and ever and ever and ever and we will never get over the fact that all of this is by grace.

So how much grace is sufficient and how can we know we receive the promised grace that ‘washes us white as snow’?

We should understand that the grace to cover your sin is not the same as the grace I need to cover my sin. God does not spray paint His grace.

 “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

(Romans 5:20-21 ESV)

I cannot compare your pain, nor your pain tolerance with mine. You may say that on a scale of 1-10 your pain level is 3. Were I to experience that same exact pain I might insist it is a 6.

Likewise your trespass and mine, even though we may think them alike, are not alike because of the contriteness of our hearts, the sincerity of our sorrow, and the understanding of the grief we have caused our Lord.

I cannot know the level or amount of grace, how big a helping of grace is required to cover your trespass, but I can promise you it is not the same as mine, or your child’s, or your husband’s or wife’s. It is not equal to or the same as that needed by anyone you know or anyone you might encounter.

Jeremiah wrote of God’s grace in his book, Lamentations. He labeled that grace as ‘compassions’, and said, “They are new every morning“.

As we read chapter three of that book. Jeremiah is in despair. Though we could assign his woeful laments to all of Zion, or even appropriate them personally, what we really find in this chapter is the outpouring of the author’s own sorrows. No person in all the Bible, save Jesus, was treated with more contempt than Jeremiah.

And yet, like a match struck in the dark, there in verses 22-23, sandwiched in by so many travails, Jeremiah proclaims the soul saving grace of God:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23 NIV)

Again I tell you, God does not spray paint His grace. Just as He has counted the hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30), just as He has ordained the number of your days before you were born (Ps. 139:16), and just as He has devised a plan for your life (Jer. 29:11), so too has He conceived and formulated the level of grace you need for today.

That is not the same grace you needed yesterday, nor the same you will need tomorrow or next week. It is the grace you need for today, for right now. If tomorrow your trespass is greater than today’s, then His grace is greater still than today’s.

The English versions of many verses in the Bible lose much in translation, and such is the case as we dissect Romans 5:20. “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

Several translations use the same English word for ‘increased’ and ‘abounded’, i.e.., ‘where sin increased, grace increased’, or ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded’.

It is important to note that in the original Greek the two terms used different words altogether.

I think it important that we see and understand the difference. The Greek word in the first instance is “pleonazō” which is Plain-Jane increased or abounded, whereas in the second instance the Greek word is “huperperisseuō“, meaning super-increased or super abounded, and the difference in meaning is as great as natural and super-natural! We might as well compare an afternoon rain shower to a force 5 hurricane.

Mankind may “pleonazō his sin, where, as only He can, God provides “huperperisseuō” grace.

And – “[It is] new every morning“!

It is basic to say God is a God of grace, that God is gracious, that Christ is gracious, being full of grace and bestowing that fullness on us, grace upon grace, or grace after grace after grace after grace.

As long as we live, and it will be forever, as long as we live in the realm of grace and salvation, we will accumulate grace upon grace upon grace upon grace forever. In Acts 4:33, Luke said about the early Christians that they were experiencing abundant grace.

Paul informs us in Romans 5:2 that we all stand in grace. We live in the environment of grace. It’s the spiritual atmosphere that we breathe. And in Romans 5:17 he adds that God bestows upon us as we stand in the realm of grace, an abundance of grace.

No matter what you might think of that grace, no matter how great you think it is, no matter how grand you think it is, no matter how lavish you think it is, no matter how superabundant you think it is, James adds, “He gives a greater grace.” It is greater than you think; it is greater than you can comprehend.

And when you think about the grace of God, typically, you probably think about the grace of God related to salvation. But that’s a very limited view.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 9 and verse 8, this is what Paul writes: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you”; all grace, meaning stretching across all categories.

It’s not just saving grace though it all fits into the realm of saving grace, but it can be more narrowly defined. God is able to make all grace abound to you. Again, the language is always extravagant when it comes to grace; “So that always you will have all sufficiency in all things.” In fact, you will have an abundance for every good deed.

This pulls all the superlatives together. God gives all grace, God makes all grace abound so that you always have all sufficiency for all things and an abundance for all good deeds.

This is lavish grace. This is profuse grace. We’re given grace to repent, we’re given grace to believe, grace to be saved. We are given grace to understand the Word of God. We’re given grace to wisely apply the Word of God.

We’re given grace to overcome sin. We’re given grace to defeat temptation. We’re given grace to endure suffering, disappointment, pain. We’re given grace to obey the Lord. We’re given grace to serve Him.

We’re given grace to use our spiritual gifts which are gifts of grace. This, Paul calls in 2 Corinthians 9:14, the surpassing grace of God that operates in you. What an amazing gift God has given us in this grace. And it is always grace which means it is not the result of our own efforts and earning.

In closing I would ask you to consider what might be your thorn in the flesh. Note that Paul referred to his thorn as a “messenger from Satan”. This was no punishment from God. It is my interpretation that God used Satan to inflict Paul with his thorn – however it may have been manifested. We know Paul suffered greatly throughout his work for the Lord – that he may have been afflicted with some other added malady is just speculation.

But we all suffer some “thorn” and it is only by the grace of God that we are able to do life, glorifying God, in spite of our thorns. And His grace is indeed sufficient.

Peace

Peace – we find the term used two hundred and fifty times in the Bible, not including peace-loving, peaceable, peaceably, peaceful, peacefully, and peace-makers.

In the Old Testament the most common usage is the Hebrew word salom or shalom. The less familiar New Testament Greek word is eirene from which we get the name Irene. There are a few other words we render ‘peace’ from the Hebrew text but their meaning differs no more than black and indigo. When you think about our English word peace there are few synonyms. Thesaurus’ best attempt is tranquility, and it adds quiet but I envision ‘quiet’ as icing on the cake.

I chose Peace as our topic today as I meditated on our approaching celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

I would ask you at this point to go back to your ‘peace place’. For some of it is a place we can no longer go. It may have been as your mother read you a bedtime story. It may have been wading a trout stream or just sitting in an easy chair, fire embers dying away, draining the last of your hot chocolate. It was a time that everything was right – not everything in the world – just in your world – for that moment in time.

Some of us find that ‘peace place’ frequently – perhaps daily. It is my prayer that you know and visit your peace place often. My wife gets up earlier in the mornings than I do most of the time. And when I get up I often find her on our patio, coffee on the table, her devotional and Bible in hand, gazing off into space. I know she is at that moment at peace. I would not disturb that for all the world has to offer. I know that my entrance into the scene is to bring her back into a world of errands and chores, and living life in a fallen world.

The apostle Paul was very much aware of the significance of being at peace and that the Lord’s peace transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7) As you read Paul’s epistles note that he opened each one with the salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

Jesus was not heralded as the Prince of Peace without reason. His promise of peace was both immediate and eternal. Imagine you and I go to see a movie that I have already seen. In the movie there is a threat against an innocent child and you might become anxious or cringe in anticipation. Yet as I already know the outcome and know the threat is not forthcoming you would see a sense of peace or tranquility in me and appropriate that peace. Jesus knew the end of the story. He knows the end of your story and mine.

He told His disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27) and “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is the peace Paul painted as "transcending all understanding", not an ordinary or commonplace type of peace. This was God's own peace – supernatural, beyond our understanding. Jesus knew the disciples were going to face uncertain days in the future, especially between the time of His death and the giving of the Holy Spirit some two months later. That was a promise of both immediate and eternal peace. His peace.

The eternal peace Jesus promises is that which we find as He healed the bleeding woman and the woman who anointed Him at the Pharisee’s home. He said to them “Go in peace, your faith has healed (saved) you”. (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; 8:48) Our peace is predicated on our faith. More faith = more peace.

You and I can have that peace that transcends all understanding in this troubled world only in Christ Jesus. We can know that we know that we know that our long awaited and longed for peace is promised and secured for us in heaven. Those peaceful moments we are blessed with now will multiply a thousand fold and be unending.

Twice in the book of Revelation God promises to wipe away every tear (Rev. 4:17; 21:4) Those verses cover a lot of ground. To wipe away every tear means to do away with anything and everything that would stand in the way of our joy.

It is my prayer that you know the peace Jesus promised. Trust Him – have faith in Him and you will find that peace.

The Prince of Peace is coming – Hurry, hurry!