My Grace is Sufficient

"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)

But He [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. . ." (2 Cor. 12:9a NIV)

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.

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 think them alike, are not alike because of the contriteness of our hearts, the sincerity of our sorrow, the understanding of the grief we have caused our Lord, and other considerations.

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".

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

And yet, like a match struck in the dark, there sandwiched 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 loses 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" (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!

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

And – "They are new every morning"! Great is His faithfulness!!

Visiting Sodom and Gomorrah

I invite you to return with me to the familiar saga of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis chapters 18 & 19. As we read between the lines, (and your author takes some literary liberties with the scripture), we detect a few subtle hints which may help us paint a clearer picture of the events of that fateful day and the message God would send to us all.

Let’s review the cast. We have an angry God, two angels of destruction, Abraham, Lot and his wife, two daughters and their husbands to be. Oh yes, and a mob of perverts.

It is a curiosity to me that we are given that God tells Abraham that He must “go down and see if what they have done is…” (Gen 18:21) – This from an omniscient God??? He must go and see?? But from this anomaly we find solace in knowing that merciful God is not impulsive in His discipline. He does not act hastily nor on hearsay evidence. He is slow to anger, abounding in love.

But the evidence is conclusive and the sentence is passed; Death and destruction – complete and irreversible. Centuries later Ezekiel will tell of how God derives no pleasure in such judgments – but they are just and prosecuted with due cause (Ezek. 14:21-23)

Although St. Peter relates that Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:6-8) we find he has abandoned the tent life of his Uncle Abe for a house in Sin-city Sodom (Gen 19:3). We wonder how he can tend his great herds (Gen. 13) from a house in the city. Actually we find Lot is not a practicing shepherd now as he is found lounging around the city gate as the two angels approached. I guess he traded his flocks for a home in the hood. Let’s give the guy a break and say he was on mission. Again quoting old St. Pete – Lot was “….distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men”

Yet many a Bible scholar will insist that the bloom had fallen off Lot’s rose. The moth cannot with impunity flutter about the flame. By and by, much as the frog in the cookpot, we are slowly, blindly, drawn into believing the lie. Lot had betrothed his daughters to Sodomites and so we surmise he was well entrenched into that society.

Even as God has sent His emissaries to the rescue, they will go kicking and screaming, each of the two angels grabbing a hand of the party of four must drag them from the city. And in a last moment’s yearning, Lot’s wife would disobey once too often, glancing back at what she had embraced as home. In a visit to the Dead Sea today, you will encounter ‘pillars of salt’ around the perimeter of that desolate body, some of which your guide may suggest could be our disobedient gazer.

Not satisfied to have been rescued, Lot now protests the Divine’s appointed place of rest and demands to choose his own refuge in Sodom’s sister city of Zoar. How often do we choose our preferred city of refuge following His rescue from certain disaster. Surely Lot and company had no claim to be saved, nor do we. As we are admitted entrance through those pearly gates how surprised we will be to find who is among the saved, and they too surprised by our own salvation. (Rom. 3:9-11)

In summarizing the epic tale we should consider this:

  • Lot was saved, at least in part, due to Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 19:29). Pray on brother! Pray on sister! The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:13-16)
  • God sent His rescuers to Lot – yes, He sent His angels to Sodom. He sends His angels to your Sodom. He stands at the door and knocks, and knocks, and knocks. He rescues all who will answer His call. None are too sinful. He goes after the one which is lost until He finds it. (Luke 15:4)
  • The angels sought to rescue more – (Gen. 19:12) Who will you bring with you? Today we’ve lined our tongues with velvet lest we offend. Sometimes we need to offend. An atheist comedian recently commented, “How much do you hate the unbeliever that you would not share your message of faith with him?”
  • The destruction was imminent! The angels told the party, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” (Gen 19:17) The Bible tells us that our Lord Jesus’ coming will be like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-3) Hurry my friend. Hurry to your salvation. Flee from that sin that so easily entangles – (Heb. 12:1)

In closing, we know that comparisons have been made to Las Vegas, New Orleans, but in reality whether you live in Smalltown, Alabama, Middleburg, Ohio, or Bigcity, Texas there are those ‘seedy’ sides of town that are as exceedingly sinful as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were. You need not travel to the night lights to find that perversion that so incensed God; today it is delivered, free of charge, by satellite dish and cable. Don’t be drawn into the candlefire.

Until next time. . .may you be abundantly blessed by God, and may you be a blessing to others.

Only One Answer

Don’t you just love it when you hear something that you have known for ever, said in a new way? At this weekend’s service our praise and worship leader made the comment that “Jesus is the only answer”.

That statement stuck with me all day yesterday. Yes we understand that Jesus is the Gatekeeper – in that He is ‘The Way, the Truth, and the Life’ and that no one comes to our Father except by Him.

But the message I received was that Jesus is the only answer to all our burdens. It is only through and by Him that we find ourselves brought in out of the storms. He is the only one who will drag us – sometimes kicking and screaming – out of our dark and sinful pit. We have become accustomed to our sin -like the slowly warming of the pot for the frog. But the amazing thing is that Christ does all this by His unequaled , limitless, love for us.

If you are overcome with grief – Jesus is the answer.

Whenever you are fearful – of decisions, of trespasses, of failing those you love – or even failing Him – Jesus is the answer.

If you are chained to some addiction – be it of the bottle, the buffet table, the adult bookstore, or the department store – Jesus is the answer.

When you feel shamed by your lusts, by your greed, or the lie you told –  Jesus is the answer.

If you find you cannot forgive – even yourself – Jesus is the answer.

When relationships so dear to you seem to be failing and you are lost for a solution – Jesus is the answer.

Whenever darkness surrounds you and the evil one seems to be winning – Jesus is the answer.

There is no valley, no unlit path that Jesus will not walk through with you.

There is no unreachable star that He will deny you.

Jesus is the answer for __________ (fill in your burdens)

You find at the bottom of each emailed invitation to these devotions the LORD God’s own words to Moses. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26) Verses 22-23 tells us that God is instructing Moses on how the Israelites are to be blessed. We have adopted these blessings through Him who is the answer to all we encounter and endure – or Lord Jesus.

May indeed the LORD God’s face shine upon you and may He abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

Unholy Pride

One of the greatest problems that we men struggle with is our pride. I have often thought that God perpetrated a really cruel joke on the male of the species, implanting in our DNA such an insidious obstacle to Christian humility, and by extension, obedience.

Now I am sure I will hear from some of the ladies that they too are troubled with prideful tendencies and I don’t argue that, nor do I minimize or trivialize their burdens in this respect. It’s just that in a man I believe it’s more prevalent. It is, more often than not, part and parcel to his nature.

One thing is certain; the prideful characteristic in a man makes him rebellious to God and unforgiving, unloving to mankind. Pride is a learned attribute that has often been pressed on us by our culture. How often have we heard a complimentary “He was (is) a very proud man”?, or a disdainful “Have you no pride?”, as if he were flawed or incomplete without it.

So today let’s dissect pride and discuss how we will deal with it. Definition: ‘A company of lions.’ Oops – that’s the wrong one. Definition: 1. too high an opinion of one’s importance or superiority; 2. arrogant behavior; 3. gratification arising from one’s possessions or accomplishments; 4. conceit; 5. disdain. I’m sure we could take out the Thesaurus at this point and expand on that short list ad nauseum.

Muhammad is supposed to have said, “He in whose heart there is as much as an atom of arrogance will not enter paradise,”  and Thomas Aquinas wrote that “inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin.” Of the seven deadly sins pride is considered the greatest. In his Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin wrote of pride, “To be proud of virtue is to poison yourself with the antidote.” Elbert Hubbard, an early twentieth century satirist, wrote, “There was one who thought he was above me, and he was above me until he had that thought.”

The characteristic of pride in a person sets us apart from God like no other. In my view it is sort of the CEO of a company of sinful characteristics; those being intolerance, impatience, and being judgmental and prejudiced.

I am intolerant of you when I tell myself that I don’t care about your needs, your wants, or your purposes. I have no respect for you and I hold you in contempt. As I am impatient with you I am saying that you are of less value than me and your time is less valuable than mine. As I judge you I adorn myself with importance and worthiness. In my arrogance I assign you in to an inferior category, to a class less honorable, a person less worthy than I.

In my pride I crown myself with lordship over you and view myself as either more worthy of respect, more honorable, or more valuable. As a Christian, my self appointed lordship is not consciously planned, intended, nor even realized. It is often the product of a subliminal fear of inferiority or desire to elevate our own self image.

So how do we overcome this tendency? How do we combat this most natural obsession for one-up-manship? From a logical point of view we must have a plan. One of my wife, Judy’s oft repeated clichés is “When you fail to plan, you can plan to fail”. From a biblical point of view we must make God’s Holy Word part of that plan. It does not matter if our prideful temptations are of Satan or of our own inherent sinful nature.

In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul tells us our struggle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (vs12) That’s Satan and his minions, and somewhere among those rulers, authorities, powers, and forces I expect is our sinful nature. As Paul lists an array of armor for our defense, (the armor of God), the one weapon he points out is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. (vs17b)

That my friends is our weapon against pride. As I have shared with you previously I have made 2 Corinthians 10:5 my life verse, my maxim, my mantra. It is my weapon of choice to combat the evil I encounter every day. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We don’t find “WWJD” written in the Bible – not in those exact words but 2 Corinthians 10:5 is about as close as I find; particularly those last ten words. “Take captive EVERY THOUGHT” and do what with the captive thought? “Make it OBEDIENT TO CHRIST” WWJD Pauline style.

Now obviously the scriptural verse that works for me may not be the same one that you lean on in that time of need. A few others I think of are Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” or maybe Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”. or Psalms 101:5, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure”. There are many more.

A few weeks ago I wrote about loving the unlovable and how as we do not love those we might consider unlovable, we then become the unlovable. Unholy pride makes us unlovable. I suppose I should state the obvious, that there is righteous pride that God honors. We can certainly be proud of friends and loved ones for hard won accomplishments. I believe we can feel proud of God using us as His tool to achieve something for His Kingdom as long as we acknowledge that it was by His will and His grace that we are used.

Let us all pray that God’s Holy Spirit will awaken us to our prideful inclinations, that we may turn away from those demonic and unloving propensities, and instead look for something positive in everyone we encounter whether they are near to us or far away.

Higher Thoughts, Higher Ways – Part II

In our previous issue we examined God’s purity relative to mankind’s, as we are infected with a sinful and rebellious nature. As we contemplate on Isaiah 55:8-9 again this week let’s delve into the abundance of God.

There is a webpage which illustrates the size of our ‘big blue marble’ in comparison to other planets in our solar system, and then on to our sun and other stars. The URL is http://www.rense.com/general72/size.htm. This illustration should help to demonstrate our less than significant footprint on the universe. It may also help us begin to grasp the greatness of our Creator.

Now if I may, let me use this size comparative illustration to bespeak of God’s abundance. “Abundance of what”, you may ask. I think first of the abundance of His grace. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul expounds on this premise of ‘higher grace’. (Rom. 5:12-21) The point is made that whatever was done by sin, and through sin, was outdone by the grace of God. If it was possible for death to get such a foothold through one act of selfishness so as to reign on earth, it must be equally possible for eternal life to reign through the matchless act of self-denial which shines from the cross. If death came to all men through the trespass of one sinner, grace must come to them more abundantly through the gift of righteousness by Christ Jesus. It was never tit for tat. The icon, the symbol of our salvation was never the balancing scales, but the cross.

There is no comparing our forgiveness and God’s. We may not measure His by our own. We say we forgive if – if the trespasser were more contrite, if the trespass weren’t so blatant, so willful. Or we will forgive – but we won’t forget. Our forgiveness isn’t prompt, and we often remain unloving, though possible civil in our relationships with the offender.

Now, as we ponder these flaws in our own mercies, is it any wonder we cannot realize the completeness of God’s forgiveness, nor the full meaning of His assurance that He will remember our sins no more? As the prodigal plodded homeward he expects only a stinted pardon and a servant’s ration. But the father runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, clothes him with the finest, and seats him at his table with the most royal provision. That is the difference between man’s notion of forgiveness and God’s

We must abandon our standards of grace, whether of your own forgiveness or that of others; they are of no help here. Our fathometer is useless, our estimates fall short. We look again at the planetary comparison – and find that even that comparison is wanting, inadequate.

When God forgives, He ceases to remember; He blots out our iniquities as a cloud; “as far as the East is from the West…” He does not just treat us as pardoned criminals, but takes us to His heart as beloved sons, heirs to His throne. (See Psalm 103:1-13)

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived. . .” (1 Cor. 2:9)