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)

My Only Boast is You!

“Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!..

So Lord, I would be Yours alone and live so all might see,

The strength to follow Your commands could never come from me…”

(Sovereign Grace Music)

Indeed, that ability to follow the Lord’s commands could not come from me; it is the power of the Holy Spirit convicting the heart and enabling me to love the Lord my God more deeply so that I can increasingly hate what He hates and love what he loves; a great portion of that is the sin in me and those I love that veil our vision of the Savior and leads me to say, “My only boast is YOU!”

When God puts an exclamation point on all He has been emphasizing through various means over a period of a couple of weeks with a sermon that both challenges and encourages, it is like a child climbing onto his/her daddy’s lap while He gently exposes his/her heart all the while revealing His own.

God is the God who redeems sinners, those who decimate the “Plan A’s” of this world, the perfection. That would be me. That would be you.

Time and again I have thanked God that He takes our broken stories and uses them for His glory. I have thanked Him for redeeming not only my greatest failures but the greatest hurts that have come from others’ choices. And I continue, even in the midst, to say, “I know You are able, God! Do exceedingly and abundantly more! Show me my sin and cause me to hate it as much as you do! Then do the same for others that I love.”

Time and again God has been faithful to show me my “messes” so that I am not blind to them, so I can leave them at the cross! It is He alone that gives me the will to do just that for it is not His desire that His children remain enraptured with any “pet sin,” anything that sets itself up against the holiness of God; rather, that we get a greater view of His glory and a more abiding love for Him so our attraction to the empty baubles lessens with time. Then, tenderly He says…and now “about this…let me do a little chiseling…” It’s not always comfortable nor without pain and sometimes He has to pry our fingers away from that which we hold so tightly, that which we think satisfies, forgetting that sin never does. But that pruning is always accomplished through the fingers of the loving Father who never fails.

That’s what God did with the lives of men and women in the Bible; He took their messes and brought forth miracles! Just as He does for us.

As our pastor taught out of the book of Ruth, the people of the Bible were not perfect but, indeed, sinners just like us for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When God breaks through in our lives, I call it a HALLELUJAH moment! Literally, a time to stop and give praise to the God who is at work in this world and in His people! This HALLELUJAH moment is two-fold. Because it doesn’t end with the failures of God’s people then or now! HE did and continues to do the work of wooing men and women to Himself, redeeming them not because of how “perfect” or “lovable” they are, but because of His great mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus! He provided the way and redeems us for His own, but He never intends that we stay where we are. He uses our messes as He has His people across generations and always does so hand in hand with repentance!

Somehow, along the way, we have, at times, chafed at that word. When someone is offending us, we long for them to repent. When we see someone we love running hard in a dangerous direction, defiant even to God, we pray for them to repent and be redeemed, restored. But, too often, when it is used in conjunction with a sin we love so well, we sometimes squirm and try to brush it off as unnecessary, even legalistic. We have forgotten that repentance is a command but it’s also a joy; that repentance is an integral part of salvation but also our continuing walk with Christ, and it is freedom! “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) and “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’“

That is something to celebrate! Who doesn’t want to be refreshed? Who doesn’t want rest and strength, quietness and trust? Who doesn’t want an unhindered relationship with the living God and those we love? The reality is if we are pushing back against God’s call for repentance, we are missing what He delights to give us. We are, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “…half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If we are honest, don’t we sometimes tend to think His commands are “burdensome” when they collide with our desires and what we have already deemed “acceptable?” Don’t we sometimes continue to coddle certain sins, living as if we think God is trying to withhold something so amazing from us? But, if we would see with His eyes and respond in “quietness and trust,” we would find that our desires are far too small, they are cheap imitations of the beauty waiting in obedience. Because in repentance and obedience, we see Him as He is and we find that all we were trying to substitute with was actually less than delight and was making us restless, more dissatisfied, and more blind to what God has wanted to give us all along!

It is not about perfection in and of ourselves; it is about seeing our Savior more clearly, loving our Father more deeply, and pursuing the likeness of Jesus more intently, being re-fashioned by God’s spirit to be image bearers as we were designed. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” I John 5:3

We lay down our pride and He takes over our messes and empowers us to leave them behind, making them and us beautiful and useful for His glory, our good, and quite possibly the restoration of someone else who needs to taste and see that the Lord is good and completely possible God’s redemption and transformation actually is! And, in so doing, we find that even the good things we have experienced encumbered, with the blinders are off, can be enjoyed fully as God intended.

He calls us to “throw off those things that hinder and that sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) not to rob us but to free us! He is not a capricious God who gives us commands that we cannot fulfill or just because He can! If He commands it, it is because it reflects His character well, it allows us to experience His gifts with joy, and He will equip us to do it. And often, in the most difficult areas, he will bring another to race alongside us, cheering us on and reminding us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we throw “it” off so that we are able not in our ability but His! If we are married, God intends that first cheerleader be our spouse, as the two are one. Repentance is a gift just like the gift of salvation; His work that enables our response.

We aren’t to make light of sin nor fear we cannot win against it. Sin is dangerous; we have to acknowledge that instead of giving it so much room to nest in our lives. BUT God…He is more than able! His strength IS made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“God’s grace IS overcoming! God’s best doesn’t come through perfect, plastic people but through ordinary sinners who trust God, repent, and believe!” (Joseph Wheat)

Won’t you join me in asking God to take the “messes” that we are and transform us as He delights to do?  And will you then, with me, joyfully boast only in Him?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts.  See if there be any grievous, offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  Psalm 139:23, 24

 

To Know and Be Known…Yet Still Loved

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  I Cor 13:7

If we are honest, we all long to be known.

We were made for intimacy; to know and be known…yet still loved.

It was in the garden that God formed man and woman and they had intimate fellowship with Him and with each other.  Yes, and for the man and woman, that included physical intimacy, given to them for one another as God intended for them to “know” each other.  It was the two becoming one in every way; body, soul, and spirit.  There was no shame, no hidden agendas, no secrets; they were known by each other and by God and they knew – it was delight!

But, as we know, the “lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (I John 2:16) snuck into even the most perfect of situations. Lest we step back and say, “Ah yes, if only I had been there, I would never…” we need to stop and remember.

For there we are right in the middle of it…”the pride of life.”  We assume we would have wisdom and discernment and would stand against that old serpent when the reality is, too often we don’t do it today.  He came to them as he comes to us, beautiful and crafty and tempting with “Did God really say?” and then later he took them as he does us on the “rationalization and/or blame game” track.  Yes, we are called to a resolve to stand against sin; God tells us to do so!  But He never says stand alone. Rather, we have power over it in the Spirit of God Himself and with His armor intentionally placed and strategically used in our battle against it; and He has given us each other to be accountable one to another for our protection and joy!

In the area of sexual temptation, however, He doesn’t say stand in it at all…He says flee!   He knows its power and tells us we aren’t even to toy with it. No, we aren’t even to “mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12)  nor is there to be  “even a hint of sexual immorality” or “coarse joking (Ephesians 3:5).”  That’s not prude; that’s protective and delightfully freeing!  It’s one of the most strategic places the enemy strikes to “steal and kill and destroy” knowing that our God has created this beautiful gift for marriage to bring us deep intimacy and oneness with our spouse.  God knows that sexual intimacy in marriage is intended to be a delight, precious and to be guarded at all costs – before and during marriage; the results in failing to do so have far reaching results.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God blessed them with shame!  What? Shame was a blessing?  Yes, and when we sin and feel shame, it is a good thing because it tells us we are still tender to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.  It is evidence that we are hearing that still small voice that calls sin out for what it is and calls us to return to the heart of God and, if we have sinned against another, make reconciliation with them. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (and away from sin) and leaves no regret.”  (2 Corinthians 7:10)   The fearful place is when we feel no shame or, if we do, yet choose to push it down; either way, justifying our “pet sins” robs us of intimacy with God and with each other.

They hid in the garden.  Then, when God came “looking,” they blamed the serpent and each other but refused to name the real problem – themselves.  Not that God really didn’t know where they were; once again, He wanted them to come out, come clean.  He wanted them to be honest, to own up to their guilt so they could be freed from its power.  He wanted to restore intimacy with Himself and with each other and they had to name their sin so they could confess it and turn.

How many times do we hide behind our facades contriving half truths (let’s be honest, lies) and full blown dishonesty with those we love, especially the one with whom we are to be the most transparent, our spouse.  We justify our actions in our head; but, for the believer, the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow us to be settled with hiding from God so, if  we choose to rationalize our sin, we become restless and either outwardly or inwardly we blame everyone else but ourselves.  God wants to re-establish that confident closeness with Himself and with the one to whom we have pledged our lives, but it has to begin with owning our own failures first before Him and then with our spouse.

And notice, though Eve sinned first and they both ultimately did so, God called on Adam as the head of the home, “Adam, where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)   Of course, women are accountable to God for their own sin and must have their own personal relationships with God through Christ; but, in the home, men are to be leading their wives to the throne of grace; setting the example of repentance and restoration rather than hiding their sin and justifying its existence.

We assume that if we are fully known, we will not be fully loved.  In so doing, we love our reputation and our self righteousness more than we love the one we promised to “love, honor, and cherish.”  The unhindered bond of trust and love can only be enjoyed when we lay ourselves bare before the Lord and then before our spouse; but we do them and ourselves a disservice when we assume they won’t give grace and will love us less.  We show no trust in them and, thus, brick upon brick is layered on the wall of our hearts keeping us from the true intimacy for which we were made. But transparency frees us to forgive!

We are sinners in need of grace and so, we will fail each other; but God never intended for us to use that grace as a license for sin or for minimizing it.  He never intended us to use the too oft spoken, “That’s just who I am; I can’t help It; it’s not that bad” rationale or use our male/female propensities as an excuse for our choices and  offenses. God’s desires for His people is a growing obedience not an intentional defiance.  When we choose to pursue that which is after the heart of God, the hearts of two are emboldened to love better and trust more deeply.  But when we make the foolish choice to remain in or return to entangling indulgences, we create a chasm that lies between.

If we share our sins, struggles, and temptations with no intention of giving them up but appearing to do so, we will go deeper into self centered darkness and secrecy and, not only will trust and intimacy not be restored, they will be seared on an even deeper level. When we choose to cling to those things that build walls in our marriages, we are deceived into choosing love of ourselves more than God and more than our spouse.

But, when we trust enough to confess these to each other and in humble reliance on God, leave them at the cross and tear down the strongholds that keep them active in our lives rather than deliberately continuing in them, we find a renewed intimacy, a deep confidence in each other.  We learn to “bear each other’s burdens” and, thus, create a safe place for each.  In fact, our confidence can be deeper and every aspect of marriage more satisfying and rich, as God intended it.  In James 5:16, God calls us to that transparency, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  There is “freedom in the things we leave behind” as together we run in our pursuit of God’s delight for us, stripping away the sin that so easily drags us down and away from Him and each other.  It refreshes the soul and builds trust in ways like nothing else as we die to ourselves and choose a vulnerability that is rooted in faithfulness to God and our spouse.

Intimacy in marriage breeds confident trust.  Trust begins with truth; it is both a catalyst for and a result of honest intimacy which cannot thrive without complete transparency; no secrets, no walls even if it means putting ourselves before the other, vulnerable.  There is a tenderness and a deep closeness that comes when we humbly lay bare our weaknesses with our spouses with the intent to battle them rather than give excuses for them.  Bringing darkness into the light diffuses its power over us and allows us to battle alongside rather than against each other.  As Francis and Lisa Chan have said in You and Me Forever, “Being in war together may be what keeps us from being at war with each other.”

With intimacy, we grow closer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  With intimacy, we see our spouses in a more complete way and are able to put aside those hindrances that keep us from loving and trusting well.  We are able to put aside past wrongs, when they are left behind, and look forward to future joy and freedom together!  If, in a marriage, there are deep wounds for which repentance before God has occurred, the pattern broken, and accountability sought, when the enemy rises up to accuse, together we can shut the door on that indictment for it is neither true nor healthy!

In our marriages, we long for intimacy.  So why would we do things that erode it  when Christ has redeemed us not only from the penalty of sin but from the power of it!  Why hide from Him and each other when freedom is found in letting go of our brokenness and acknowledging that before God and before each other!  There is no intimacy in concealing a part of ourselves, just a restless wistfulness and deeper wounds!

Adam and Eve listened to the first lie, then assumed the second and hid; broken intimacy led to lack of confidence in God and each other..

Will we as couples ban those attitudes and actions from our marriages that destroy intimacy?  Will we do whatever it takes and in the power we have in Christ to to see they don’t rise up again?  Will we also choose to trust our spouses with transparency and, as the other, will we choose to respond with grace and love so that marriages that need healing can be healed and those that are already healthy can grow deeper. It is when we are intimate with God, unhindered by unrepentant sin; we are free to have intimacy with our spouse!

Will we know and be known…yet still love?

“Real love is lived in the reality of two sinners LEARNING to love and forgive as each transgresses the other and each forgives. The words ‘I love you’ are easy. The sacrifice of ‘I love you’ is hard because we battle our own selfishness and that is where life is often lived.” (Joseph Wheat)

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”            Proverbs 3:3

Intimacy

These hands you made to hold yours, my love  

These feet you shaped to walk with you in our garden

These eyes you placed to gaze upon your face

These lips you formed to kiss my beloved

I was made, I was made for intimacy

 These ears you made to hear your rhythm of love

This voice you placed to sing songs of grace

This hair you wove, you numbered every strand

 This gaze you love, it captures you with a glance

Intimacy is what I need, intimacy is calling me

Jonathan David Helser

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