The Greatest Force on Earth

“Bill, when I look at you I marvel at the grace of God.”  Now, that phrase could be taken in a couple of different ways.  It could mean “you were such a mess that only God could help you,” or it could mean “God’s grace is so wonderful that it has changed your life completely around.”  Both are true.  Let me add that it is true of everyone who have experienced His grace.

The theological definition of the grace of God is His unmerited favour accredited to us.  One who was lost because of the blindness of sin, who was on the road to perdition, and who was completely without merit to receive grace.  As a guilty criminal who finds that on the day of his sentencing that his crime has been paid for, his criminal record cleared and walks away as if he never committed a crime.  That is grace.

Grace found me when I was a grade 12 high school student who thought that life was all about sports and drinking.  I was your average teenager who did not understand or even care about spiritual things until grace found me.  It found me when I began to realize that life was more than drinking buddies and hockey games.  Grace found me while I lived in a super dysfunctional home with a domineering Mom and a Father who had walked away from God as a young man.  Grace found me when I finally understood that in light of Christ’s death and resurrection I was responsible to decide to accept His Grace!  I could not pin the blame on my parent’s for not providing the right home environment, or my schools for not providing me the kinds of friends who would encourage me to search for God.  I was at fault and I was in need of grace.

Grace, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, has had and continues to have a profound impact on my life.  Because of grace I have the motivation that I need to get up every morning and face the challenges that God puts in front of me.  Because of grace I see those around me who are in deep and urgent need of her.  I understand the theological/biblical argument of why people need grace, that grace that is so drastically and clearly illustrated when Christ faced the wrath of God that I deserved.  As much as I understand that argument, it is because I have experienced the truth of grace that I desire so much for each person to experience it as well!  To live without guilt because Christ died for our guilt, to live with purpose and conviction that God’s plan includes me is so liberating that it motivates me for every day that I live!

Those of us who have experienced grace at times forget what it was like to live without it.  Like, those who get up every morning and try and get through the day by their own strength.  Or, those who have convinced themselves that life is all about what one touches and sees and life is over when the heart stops beating.  Those who so live without grace need to see in us who have experienced grace models of gracefulness.  We, who have experienced the liberating power of Christ through faith in His death, burial and resurrection, must imitate our Father in heaven.  We were where they are now, let us be instruments of grace!

After all these years, I marvel at the truth that God’s grace reached even me!  I will be eternally grateful.  You?

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus,
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea;
Higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All-sufficient grace for even me;
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame;
O magnify the precious name of Jesus, praise His name!

The Missing Ingredient

I will never forget it.  An example of being a servant that was so clear, so humble in its character that it has defined for me what this principle is all about.  Our church youth group was going on a camping and canoeing trip to a park in Northern Ontario, almost the most beautiful spot on the planet.  As we prepared for that trip we thought it a good idea to open cans of stew and pour the contents into zip lock baggies and iron them shut.  It seemed like a good idea at the time because we would not have to carry cans in our backpacks, which were prohibited anyway.  

As we paddled the first couple of days, we were having a great time, canoeing and camping and all that goes with it, those wonderful portages of 1000 meters!  Great times!  Whew!  But by the third day as we were with much delight enjoying our stew, I began to not feel so well!  And as night approached a thing called food poisoning had its grips on me.  If you have ever been to one of those parks you will recall that the “facilities” yes…those facilities, are not exactly like those in a 5-star hotel.  Not at all, really!  As I began to “lose” my dinner and a few other meals, I had never felt so horrible.  
When this occurs, one does not feel exactly ready to tidy up as it were.  Here is where the servant part comes in, our Youth Pastor, in discovering my situation, begun to clean the outhouse where I had lost it all.  As far as I know, he did not get a raise in pay for that, he did not get a job promotion but he did serve from his heart of love for the Lord!   The story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in John 13 is equally as shocking.
What was it that caused Jesus to do the task of a servant?  Why would he bend down and wash stinky, dirty and even ugly feet?  He was about to fulfill the assignment for which God had sent Him to earth, to die on the cross for the sin of the world.  This rag tag group of His followers needed to understand that being in leadership didn’t mean that they were at the top of the food chain having others serve them!  They needed to serve one another, they needed to humble themselves and follow the example of Jesus.  
Too often in Christian circles we are looking to be served instead of serving.  We are many times like those disciples who, while the Lord was facing the cross and the fulfillment of God’s plan, were arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom!  Unbelievable!  We want the best seats; we want others to wait on us!  How different Jesus is!  For those who belong to Him the way up is down, the way to be a leader is to be a servant of all!  
I don’t know about you, but I am challenged in the way I live my Christian faith every time I look at the life of Christ.  What an example He has set for us!  I wonder if the world would notice if our churches were filled with people who first were looking to serve instead of being served.  I think so.  As we proclaim the wonderful grace of Jesus may we do so in such a captivating way through our service to one another and our service to those around us, that people would seek the Lord because of the radical difference He has made in our lives. 

Did You Think It Would Be Easy??

Dr. Luke, in writing the history of the early church, better known as the Acts of the Apostles, underlines for his readers how tough it is to be a Christian.  In speaking of the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul, Luke writes, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  Why in the world would he write that?  Didn’t he want to encourage people to be a part of this movement of God?  Wasn’t the goal to grow the church, not tell people how hard it is to be a part of the church? 
As we read the story of how the early church was established, we cannot escape the fact that there was suffering involved in living the life of faith.  There is trouble that comes from inside the church and trouble that is external to her.  We see Christians, who tried to get away with false appearances in Acts 5, then there is trouble with the widows in Acts 6, Stephen is martyred in Acts 8 and Christians are scattered because of the persecution! That is just the first 8 chapters of the book.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it, anyone want to sign up! 
We are told that there are more Christian martyrs today than at any other time since the first century.  Not only do people suffer for their faith but believers are not exempt from the same pains as people who do not know the Lord.  Christians die of terrible diseases, they are killed in traffic accidents, and they are even murdered. 
The hope and joy of being a believer is not found in anything we think will alleviate our pain.  Life hurts, it is difficult and no one is safe.   Our hope is found in the truth that Jesus has conquered our biggest enemies, sin and death, and has promised us victory as well!  That encourages me!  I am encouraged that the Sovereign God knows me so well that He has a plan for me life.  The plan He has for me is that not only do I have hope in a future life but that I have hope today because of the victory He has obtained for us through the resurrection of His Son!
 
I recall the story of a would-be basketball player who got roughed up under the basket and came away with a bloodied nose.  On returning to the bench with his proverbial tail between his legs, the coach offered the following words, “Stop sulking and get back out there, what did you think basketball was like?”  No one can learn to play real basketball by watching the pros play on television.  You cannot see or experience everything that goes on under the basket!  You cannot feel the elbows to the nose on your 40” plasma! 
Life for the Christian is lived in the difficulties that we experience.  They help us develop a dependency on the Lord, and how great is that!  We often want to be self reliant but God’s desire is that we be dependent on Him!  I have learned and still am learning that I need to trust Him more and more as He works out His plan in my life.  And that is exactly where He wants us to be!

True Love Direct from Heaven

When you think of the word, “love”, what pops into your mind?  I remember the Disney movie “The Lady and the Tramp” when they are given a plate of spaghetti and they end up sucking on the same strand.  We go, “ah” isn’t that cute!  We fall into the trap of thinking now that’s love.  If you watch television at all you will be quick to realize that love is often a synonym for sex, they are used interchangeably to such an extent that one cannot tell the difference between them.

People have a hard time understanding the true definition of the word, love.  You know that by the way people do what they do in order to earn it.  A child will go to any length to show their love to their parents.  A woman often will stay with an abusive man because of love.  We know that is not true ‘love’ but rather a dependence on another for emotional and relational security.

When we come to the Scripture, the picture painted by God takes our breath away.  The great overarching story that is presented to us is that man spurned the love of God and preferred to go it his own way.  Thinking that he could do better on his own, man determined to build his own utopia apart from God.  He sought to find love in things, in himself and in life separated from the Creator.  He tried to make a name for himself without taking God into account and ended up with a purposeless life void of meaning and substance.

God’s love brings purpose and meaning to life because He designed to be loved by Him!  When we try and stuff our lives with “stuff” we miss the point!  God’s love gives us an identity that satisfies the deep longings of our heart.  I love literally the truth that First John 3:1 shares with us, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  

I don’t know about you, but before God’s love rescued me, I was an absolute nobody!  I sought love by trying to please my parents, by trying to gain acceptance into a certain group in high school, and never found it! Never!  How often it is then that as a believer in Jesus Christ instead of being satisfied with His love that I have sought that satisfaction in the poor replicas of the love that the world tempts me with?  Too often, I must admit.

God’s love has rescued me from sin, it has given me purpose and joy, peace and above all, love.  I love those around me with that love with which God has rescued me!  Unbelievable!

Commitment

    As a young Christian one of the issues that I dealt with many times was that of being committed.  Let’s define that term lest you think I am talking about a special kind of being committed to a special institution!  No, I am referring to that commitment that we make to the Lord Jesus Christ when we turn the keys of our life over to Him.  I recall a number of young people who were saved around the same time that I was who no longer have kept their commitment to Christ. Whatever happened in their lives, they made a decision to abandon the faith.  

    Some folks don’t abandon the faith but they do make small lifestyle changes that are inconsistent with living for Christ.  They decide that they will use their liberty in Christ to do whatever they feel like doing.  I am not judging at all.  I notice that there is a change in their fervor for following Christ and living for Him.  Little changes but big results.

    One of the verses that God has used in my life for years is Romans 12:1, I remember memorizing it in the King James Version when I was a teen, “I beseech you, therefore brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.”  The concept of commitment screams out at us here.  Because of what God has done for us, we have an obligation to give all that we are, all that we have and all we ever hope to be, to the Lord.  Because of the gift of salvation I now have a new owner that looks out for my best interests.  And that is exactly where the rub comes in.  We love to control our own destiny but that concept runs into direct competition with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

    Today, as I was reading Romans 12 and 13, I learned something new.  If you take the time to read those chapters you will see that the Apostle Paul proceeds to talk about the use of spiritual gifts, how we relate to one another, our relationship to those in authority over us and finally he deals with how we should spurn fleshly sins.  All of it is hinged on our commitment to being a living sacrifice.  There is never a moment when that commitment is to be broached and suspended by the child of God, NEVER!  That is not to say we will not sin or be tempted to sin but it is to say that we will submit to the Lordship of Christ each day of our life. 

    Is it easy?  Are all problems dissipated?  Will everyone welcome us with open arms?  No, no, no!  But we will live with the peace and joy that God promises to those who turn over the keys of their lives to Him.  There is no greater purpose to which we can give our lives!  

The Good and the Bad

The call to serve God in a full time, professional sense is an awesome call.  I know that each believer has been called to serve God but not every believer has the opportunity to do so as a profession.  Even though I must admit that sometimes it would be great to attend church and be a member of a church without the responsibility to lead the church.  I especially think that on Monday mornings after a hectic weekend of ministry.

There are times when the call to minister in a professional sense is a down right blast.  Nothing thrills my heart more than leading the congregation to discover new and old truths from the Word and make them applicable to every day life.  That is awesome.  I love being in the study preparing for those times, reading what others have discovered and mixing that with my own.  I find it an awesome privilege to be with people at life’s most important and crucial moments.  Usually those are found at the beginning of life and at the end of life.  I would never want to exchange the time I get to pray with families at those moments.  To be able to bring an awareness of the person of God to at times is a great responsibility and joy, to be honest with you.

What tends to frustrate me most is the misunderstandings that seem to inhabit church life.  Instead of talking to people who are directly affected by an issue, we talk about them and then elect someone else to go and do our talking!  What’s up with that!?  I believe that if I have an issue with you, I ought to be courageous enough to come and talk to you about it.  However, if I won’t talk to you about it, then I need to change my attitude toward you!  I believe that this is the ethic which the New Testament teaches.

Ministry is a wonderful calling from God.  It is a joy to serve the Lord and His people.  The key, I guess, is continuing to grow as child of God and as a minister of the gospel.  I have NOT arrived, I know that I need to grow so much more.  I pray that we would all see our lives as works in progress that need the grace of God and the care of others!