His Rescue is My Reward…and My Joy!

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Is our God not so gracious?

We are “half-hearted creatures,” as I quoted C.S. Lewis in my last blog post, “My Only Boast is You.”  But the God who has redeemed His children is a “wholehearted God,” a God who rescues and restores from beginning to end!  Even as His stubborn sheep often run from His protective care, He promises and we can be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 1:6)

Is there any greater joy than to know that on our most faithful days and our most defiant, He is the God who pursues us!  No, He doesn’t allow us to stay in our rebelliousness and will permit whatever it takes for the blinders to come off our eyes, the scales to come off our hearts, and the humility before Him to restore our spirits. Yes, that is authentic love that dares to rock our world and to rescue us from ourselves and our propensity to rationalize our attitudes and our actions.

How sweet the peace when we surrender to His correction!

We can trust Him to do that because He has been doing just that throughout time.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…sent His Son to die in our place giving us freedom from the penalty of sin but also the power of sin in our lives.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…invades our self-satisfied souls and leads us to repentance. He is not calling us to perfection but to pursuing it as we grow in our knowledge of and love for Him and increasingly desire to follow more faithfully. That’s not legalism, that’s the grace of sanctification!

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…takes our messes and redeems them for His glory!

“Redemption happens once we leave our ‘stuff’ behind! God meets humility and repentance and does the work of transformation. Repentance doesn’t keep pressing under and forward with sin, it doesn’t continue in it and hide it but, rather, exposes it to the light of God’s saving and sanctifying grace.” (Joseph Wheat)

As we gaze into the Word of God, we come face to face with “messes” who also humbled themselves before the Lord. He used even those to complete His story of redemption in Christ. But He didn’t leave them as they were.

Though Rahab was a prostitute, she was obedient to protect the Israelites then turn from her false gods, as well as her way of life, lived in defiance to the one true God.  Ruth left her homeland and her Moabite gods as well and faithfully, obediently followed the one true God as she honored and followed Him through Naomi’s directions and she was redeemed. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan, he didn’t lash out in anger at him, deny his sin, or make excuses for it; God softened His heart and he was humble before the Lord as he repented.

Against You and You only have I sinned, Lord, and done what is wicked in Your sight…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (from Psalm 51)

And that is why David is known as a man after God’s heart; not because he was perfect, not because he wasn’t a mess. But because, by God’s grace, He didn’t stay in his mess. David didn’t continue in his sin. He laid it at the feet of God, confessed it, turned from it, asked God to give him that willing spirit to sustain him in continuing that obedience, then opened himself up to be used by God to turn others away from sin and back to the Lord.

We have a tendency to want to hold onto certain sins in our lives while doing lots of “good things” for God, to make “atonement,” even barter with Him, for what we don’t want to let go. But David, whose chaos God used in the lineage of Jesus, laid it all down and knew it wasn’t any “good works” or “burnt offerings” God desired – it was repentance, a “broken and contrite heart.”

God knows our hearts and He knows our greatest temptations and our greatest propensities to give into them so He doesn’t call us to go into battle alone. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and come to a place of letting go, God promises His faithfulness in the battle, “…He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape…” (I Corinthians 10:13) and then He equips us to take that way out.

How awesome is that!

I appreciate the way Trevin Wax describes it, “God understands our temptations. He knows our hearts better than we do. He sympathizes with our ignorant attempts to find joy apart from him. But in his great love, he refuses to affirm us in our misdirected ways. To do so would be to abandon us to the leash and lamppost, where we would strangle ourselves.” (C.S. Lewis Talks to a Dog About Lust*)

God forgives and gives us the power to defeat sin in our life but never to excuse it. Some choices have greater consequences for us and for those we love and we need to ask God for the ability and the will to battle them more intensely and purposefully; yes, not just to set them aside for a time but to kill those areas of our lives for good. I have watched men and women be completely freed from devastating sins; not necessarily from the temptation at first but from the power those temptations have on them. And, over time as they battled in the power of the Holy Spirit, the intensity of the temptations lessened as their “self-control muscle” was strengthened with use.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

What “gods” of our own making (those pet sins we coddle or those good things we make the “ultimate things” that we pursue with our all heart, soul, and mind), do we need to leave behind so “times of refreshment might come?” What areas do we hold on to that are a hindrance to our walk with the Lord and our most intimate relationships as well as other interactions?

It’s so easy for our eyes to be blinded by and to our own “old man” desires that we too often allow to set up residence in our souls, that we justify them as “part of who we are.”  We rationalize that since we won’t be perfect this side of heaven, we can actually have sins we don’t address. But when we keep allowing the same sins over and over (God never gives us that latitude and there are some with greater consequences to our souls and the lives of others), we make light of that amazing grace; in essence, we mock God and make less of His mercy.

Repentance is a miraculous work of God because it is He who calls us to it and equips us for it and, when we are humble enough to submit areas of “sin entrenchment” to His surgical hands, we are given the freedom in Christ not just from the penalty but also the power of sin. Sadly, we often think that letting go of a pet sin will be a loss to us – that is a lie from the enemy of our souls! Rather, when we trust God, true belief and true repentance will bring us satisfaction from soul hunger.

Yes, we run hard into the arms of our Savior when we fail!  And God can and does use our failures, but He won’t leave us in them and He doesn’t intend for us to grow comfortable with them. Out of love for us, He will rip them from our hands by whatever means possible, as He allowed Nathan to “expose” David not to shame him but so that “godly sorrow would lead him to…repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10); even if it means revealing them to others who will love us enough to give grace but not to give us a “pass.”  Will we respond with the same humility?

God is the God of new beginnings; He is at work putting the “old man” to death. He is the God who makes us “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – first, in our position before Him because of Christ’s death and resurrection but, then, as we view Him and our sin in a completely different way; and, finally, as he softens our stony hearts so that truth reigns in our relationship with him and others.

As with David and so many more, repentance is an opportunity of great praise because it is in this that the power of God is made perfect in us and so evident! He can destroy the chains of choices that drag us down so we can increasingly live faithful to Him and with those in our lives…not perfectly but a little more intentionally and “seamlessly” with every day we walk in His Truth instead of according to our passions and desires (Galatians 5).

At times, the initial step is hard but oh the joy of letting go!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

“Grace often grows strongest where conviction of sin has pierced deepest.” (Sinclair Ferguson)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins…But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen!” (2 Peter 1:3-9 and 3:18)

Returning to a Proclamation and a Promise

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“Peace on earth; good will towards men.” A proclamation and a promise.

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away. Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed. Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down. And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm for neither addictions, denials, nor hidden places where we seek to bury our shame offer the peace for which we long.

Sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction. But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our soul cringes. The light of Truth dispels the shadows of the dark places and we find grace!

And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or reaching out to believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference. Yet, we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make another “feel” false comfort or misplaced confidence. Rather, unashamed, we speak what is true out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!” Boldly, we approach the throne of grace on their behalf.

And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work. The enemy of our souls can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, insert sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy!” We choose, in faith, to reject the lies (and sometimes even what is reality) that pierce our soul; all because of the our God penetrating the darkness and coming in flesh on that holy night! Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

Even sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, pursuers of His excellent way, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right. We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer. But we do not live in the expectation nor resignation of failure! We live as one redeemed and being continually changed by the transforming grace of God. For the difference is not in us; it’s in the Savior, born that silent night who would die and be raised by the same divine power that “…has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence!” (2 Peter 1:3)

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying whatever entangles us at the cross, reminding those who watch that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year. And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.” We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

And so, in the moments, there are times we will have a settledness in our souls and others when restlessness will haunt us. But, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe in that sleepy town, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!” The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that not so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.” A proclamation and a promise. The now and the not yet! Gazing on the babe in the manger, we remember what was to come – His finished work on the cross and His resurrection to life! And we await our soon and coming King once more!

This is Christmas! The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of hope we find even in our weariness: “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come. It is finished!

 

Exposing to Heal – Tender Mercies

“Grace will expose things you want to deny but won’t leave you in despair, filling you with new found hope and courage.  When we hide and deny our sin, we’re not defending the gospel. No, we’re contradicting its central message. Our sin and weakness don’t mock the message of the gospel. No, they confirm the necessity of the gospel….Grace will require you to face your wrongs but won’t leave you condemned, granting you complete forgiveness; complete and eternal forgiveness… Grace will show you what a mess you are, then clean up your mess with divine, transforming power.”  Paul David Tripp

Not too long ago, my daughter and I stripped some furniture of its old tired paint, sanding it down and getting below the surface.  It was a slow process, scraping and peeling away layers built up over time.  But once done, the wood beneath was exposed and the process of transforming a worn-out piece of furniture into a fresh, new creation was underway.  The end result brought great delight!

Our hearts and lives are sometimes like that.  While there are various experiences, choices, and decisions that create beauty, richness, and strength that increases with time, there are also those that create layer upon layer of pain, weariness, and self focused striving and choices that wear upon our souls.  What is really needed is a tearing away, stripping down to the core to restore the loveliness of life and the strong beauty found in one grounded in Christ and living according to His will not our own.

When, in the course of making decisions in our lives, we base them on our deceitful hearts, choosing what “seems right” to us and what we allow ourselves to believe will enhance us and fulfill the longings we crave, we begin to form layers that detract from delight.  Rather than enrich and develop the God designed beauty for our lives, the consequences will start to bleed out and that which we found so attractive in the beginning will lead to lives faded, cracked, chipped, and in dire need of a restoration.

Our choices have also, at times, led to an infection of our souls leaving us drained and afraid.  Continuing in the same pattern with an occasional cessation is like putting a band aid on a injury that is highly infected and needs to be cut away.  At those times, there is much pain in opening those wounds and allowing the contamination to seep out so healing can begin; but to get to the root so that our souls and relationships can be restored, sometimes pain is a necessary part of the heart repair.

So, too, there are times the Lord must bring pain to our lives in order to open our eyes to the truth of what our choices are doing to us and to those around us.  Out of His great love for His children, He chips away at our layers and even, at times, must lance the destructive contagion warring on our hearts.  It is not comfortable and we can sometimes assume that it is an external force causing our pain rather than the loving hand of the Father disciplining and calling us to return.

It is His grace – so rich and so full, so much more than we often allow to penetrate our deepest sins and injuries. Yes, it is the gift undeserved freeing us from the penalty of sin, paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and by His resurrection, defeating ultimate death!  But, if we stop there, we miss out on so much.  It is as if we open a gift bag, take out the first thing we see, and never look below the paper to the myriad of treasures beneath.

His grace “exposes us” and allows us to see the depth of need so we can truly understand the great gift we, who are in Christ, have received.  But it goes beyond a mere exchange of guilt to empowering us and freeing us, with the “same power that raised Jesus from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20, Romans 8:11-14), to live new lives, to give “hope and courage,” to walk not according to our sin-layered desires but according to the will and heart of God where true joy and true freedom are found.

Hidden sin gains power over our soul in darkness, but it is not benign. It does far more damage than we dare to believe for we begin to think deeds done in secret have no consequences.

The enemy of our souls wants to keep our “layers” out of the light of truth and transparency; to make us fear that if we are “known” we will not be loved.  That same enemy, the “roaring lion (who is) ready to devour” (I Peter 5:8), tells us that we either can’t change or don’t need to, that we are able to “handle” our rebellion against God’s design; and he perverts grace by telling us that, because of it, we are free to choose and do as we please without consequences.  He seeks to convince us that we are free to step outside God’s protective boundaries also known as His wisdom and His commands.  It is the same lie spoken long ago in the garden; the lie that says we can “be like God” and lures us to question without seeking the true answer to: “Did God really say…?”

But, if we grab hold of His grace, we can know what God has spoken! And if we trust God, who knows us intimately and has called us by name, we realize that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we have the Truth found by abiding in Him and in His Word alone!  Not long before His time on earth was done, Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them (that would include His redeemed children today) by the Truth; Your Word is truth.”  (John 17:17)  His Word is part of His grace to us –  His gift so that we can know!

For the follower of Christ to say we are unable to break free, to exercise self-control, to act apart from our sin nature is to call God a liar and deny the power that raised Jesus from the dead.  For if He has set commands before us for His praise, the good of those we love, and our own good, then He has also provided all we need to increasingly live them out faithfully including taking steps towards mutual accountability.

We may choose to ignore it or distort it to fit our purposes or desires, but if we are a child of God, His Spirit will not allow us to stay layered in darkness.  By His grace, He will confront us, making us restless and uncomfortable in order to bring light into the dark places, causing us to relinquish control and follow His design. If necessary, He may remove something that blocks our view of Him and of His truth. He delights to see His children, even if we come limping home; He runs to us and embraces us as we are, in humility setting our brokenness before Him.  

But, if we choose to ignore His promptings or seek to stay in the shadows of our choices, out of His great love for us, He may allow further pain or cause another to see our need for change and repentance, prompting them to  “speak the truth in love” for the purpose of restoration.  Whatever it takes to peel away the layers of sin that are hiding the magnificence of His design for us, He will do.  He loves us that much.  He desires an undivided heart and relationship with Him and He will accomplish it!

His pursuit is His tender mercy!   His intent is to re-establish our footsteps and again set us on the course He designed for us, that we might boldly and securely live out and reflect Him not only in our outward lives that people see but in the secret places of our hearts, in the hidden places where we have, at times, compromised truth.  It is for His glory and our greatest joy!

“God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal.  If he was not working on this, He would not be faithful to His promises to you…Because He loves you, He will willingly interrupt or compromise your momentary happiness in order to accomplish one more step in the process of rescue and transformation, which He is unshakably committed to.”  (Paul David Tripp)

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.”  Job 5:17-18

And grace heals relationships as well; it teaches us and equips us to love and forgive and it allows us to receive that same love and forgiveness.  Grace enables us to know and be known so that in this journey we travel – one sinner among a world of sinners – we can give that healing and transforming grace.  We can forgive where others have wounded us, intentionally or unintentionally, because we know we have been forgiven much by the Savior.  We can speak into lives that are being crushed by the deceitfulness of sin and unwise choices because we know His grace is more than able to heal, bringing much needed transformation and the peace that is so deeply desired because we have been lifted up by that grace!

And, even more deeply, in marriage,  where two sinners have chosen to live as one both in body and soul, by grace we can each remove the protective veil over our hearts and lives and the layers that at times obscure transparency, allowing the very depth of who we are and what we do to be seen.  In God’s grace and in humble growing reliance on His control, we can be vulnerable with one another, knowing we will still be loved and, through Him, we will walk together and grow in the strength and unity of that grace that is still in the process of forgiving, healing, and transforming us as individuals and as a couple into the likeness of Himself.  We grow in our delight of each other as we grow in our delight of His grace!

We can bend our knee.  We can lay down our layers unafraid and unashamed because His grace is far more amazing than we realize and exceedingly more powerful than we can imagine!  His tender mercies expose us so that His love can transform us and the joy that comes from that transparent fresh start will be delightfully palpable!

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that becomes visible is light.  This is why it is said:“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5:13,14