More Grace

multiple-arrows-pointing

I love it when you run with something that you believe God has shown you and people get it. I wish it happened more for me.

What is perhaps more common is for God to show me something, and for me to take a while to be convinced. Or perhaps I get the first instruction, then run with it in a different direction to the one God intended. Not necessarily wrong, just not intended.

I’m beginning to wonder if that is what happened with my last post. I had the first line from the song “There is so much grace” going through my mind. The first line states “East went looking for West but never found him, guilt went looking for my past, but only found love.”

Yesterday, we sang “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love…..as far as the East is from the West, that’s how far He has removed our transgressions from us.”

It was almost as if God had hired a big billboard with a huge arrow saying, “Look here, this is it, this is the message, tell them about this!!!!”

I knew that the recurring phrase was from Psalms – but had somehow missed the fact that it was found in what I have often cited as my favourite Psalm came as a bit of a surprise. It would appear that in my efforts to find the “perfect verse” to “prove” my theology on God’s willingness and ability to heal all today, I neglected to read on.

Many of us will be familiar with the start of the Psalm – “Bless the Lord, O’ my soul, and all that is within me less His Holy name. Bless my soul O my soul and forget not all His benefits who forgives all your iniquity who heals all your diseases.”

The Psalmist goes on to remind us that God has redeemed us out of a pit and crowned us with a love and mercy that does not fail. A quick search of the word used for pit here makes it clear that a pit is not somewhere one wants to be. A pit was a place where one found oneself after a transgression, either of our own doing or from the actions of another. Remaining in the pit meant certain death. There was often no way to get out of the pit yourself, it required the intervention of another, someone who might have to put themselves in harms way in order to save the one in the pit, without thought for their own safety. (remind you of anyone else??)

Verse 8 continues – “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He doesn’t deal with us as our sins deserve. I don’t know about you but I’m ever so grateful of that truth.  The enemy is a cunning deceiver though. How many times have we been rendered ineffective in our mission to “make disciples of all nations” because we listen to the small voice that reminds us of the things we have done wrong. God couldn’t possibly use someone as sinful as me, not after I did …….

As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.

East went looking for West one day……..

If God can’t find our transgressions, why do we repeatedly bring them up? We come to Him in repentance and say “God, I did the thing again. I’m sorry.” He replies with “That’s ok my child, don’t do it again, and incidentally, what do you mean again?”

I was always taught to “keep short accounts with God.” On a simply practical level, this makes a lot of sense. Many Christians spend a lot of their walk trying to work up the courage to approach God for forgiveness. The sooner we do, the sooner we will be aware of His ever-present love, favour and presence again. In my experience, there is nothing like that awareness. It makes everything right. Tough times are easier, good times are enhanced, and the chaos of the world begins to feel lest chaotic. I feel like giants in front of me are like grasshoppers, and that labouring with God in a common goal is achievable.

Psalm 103 is still my favourite, especially now as I’ve found so much more encouragement within it. I’m sure there is more in there, so watch this space, but for now, there is so much grace!

(for those that missed it last time, here’s the link to the songs that inspired the post.

There is So Much Grace

grace-on-clouds1

I’ve been a Christian for a lot of years. Over time I have spent time under the teaching of a number of different denominations, from strict brethren to Lutheran, from Baptist to non-denominational. Many of them have had a pretty similar stance on what you can and cannot do as a Christian. I have usually gone along with whatever was being taught at the time. The more I read the bible though, the more I wonder where the rules and regulations come from.

I have made little secret of my opinion of John Piper. It is difficult to fault his bible knowledge, and lots of his teaching I would agree with. For me though, there is far too much “you have to do it this way or God won’t accept you” in the way he delivers his messages. There is a series available on YouTube where Piper is asked various questions. These are as diverse as “rules for a Christian marriage” to “should Christians drink alcohol” and “is it wrong for men to have long hair.” While some of the replies are firmly grounded in scripture, many of the responses are simply Pipers opinion on the matter. The problem I have with this is that for many people, his words are taken as close to gospel truth on matters that in the grand scheme of things really don’t matter.

The Desiring God website states one of their aims to be to enable everyone to “know the Glory – God’s glory. The deepest longings of the human heart can be satisfied in pursuing that glory. In fact, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.“ They call this truth ‘Christian hedonism.’ A quick check of the website confirms that this is basically defined as Joy. The issue I have is that the primary way to experience this “deep joy” is to obey a bunch of rules, regulations and guidance.

Mike Warnke, Christian comedian popular in the 80’s once said, “People write to me and say, ‘how much makeup should a Christian woman wear?’ Mike would write back and say “I don’t know sister, it depends on your face. The point is that in a world that is going to hell, we really don’t have time to worry about your Maybelline.” We really don’t have time to worry about how we appear to other christians, and how well we are doing at keeping the rules. We don’t have to worry about this because we have already been accepted.

It’s not John Piper per se that I take issue with. It is anyone that we put on a pedestal and accept anything that they say without question. Bill Johnson would be another prime example. I love Bill’s teaching and recognise that even in the sound bites that sound controversial, there is decades to study, time with the Father, and theology behind them. He still says things that I don’t agree with though.  Perhaps for you it is the pastor or leader in your local church.

Jonathan David and Melissa Helser sing a song called ‘So much Grace.’

“East went looking for West, but never found him.

Guilt went looking for my past, but only found love

I heard about a sea where sin sinks like stones

There is no floor there, just mercy down below.

There is so much grace (x4)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1ivt7cw_qI

Do Christians need rules? Absolutely. Should we be getting bound up with keeping them? I think that is a bit like the Pharisees and the law. There are things that Jesus commands us to do, most of which involve loving others. If we are to show the compassion for people that Jesus did we should be more concerned with loving the person in front of us, pursuing those who are lost and introducing them to the Jesus we know, allowing Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, and loving them regardless than worrying about whether we should be allowed a glass of wine with our dinner.

And if we do mess up, and come back to Him, truly sorry, there is no judgement – there is “so much Grace.”

Pull you socks up!

PullYourSocksUp

Dreams are strange things. I used to believe that they were just random constructs of a busy mind, not really meaning anything, something our brains “just did”. Over the last few years though, I’ve become more aware of my dreams. Not obsessively, but every now and again, I remember a dream, and feel sure it has a message for me. I suppose the most worrying thing about that is what the prophet Joel said about “old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions.” I’m not sure I’m ready to be an old man yet.

There are other scriptures too, Psalm 17:3 – “you have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” Our body sleeps, but our mind is still active. It seems that sometimes this is the only time that God can get a word in edge ways in our busy lives. God used dreams to direct the affairs of His people, and to warn and give instruction (see Joseph – being told that it was OK to take Mary as his wife, and to leave and flee to Egypt.)

Dreams can still be very confusing, and not really grounded in real life. Take the one I had a few days ago. Bear with me, because on first read, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

 

I was getting ready to play football for Brazil. (I told you this didn’t make sense) We were heading to the match, walking through the streets towards the stadium. It seemed to take a while to get there – almost as if the match wasn’t the destination. I saw the crowd grow in anticipation as we approached.As we got to the venue I stopped to put my socks on. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get my right sock on. I pulled and pulled, there was just no way that that sock was going to fit over my foot.

The game started without me. I was still sat outside the stadium, trying to get my socks on. Not part of the game. I began to question why I was even there. I wondered if any of this made sense. Why was I, a Scot, getting ready to play for a Brazil?

Around about then, I woke, and continued to analyse what I had just “seen.”

In real life, I had no “right” to be a part of the Brazil set up. To the best of my knowledge, I am Scottish through and through and yet I had been chosen to represent the team. As we walked to the stadium I was part of the team, accepted and included in all that was going on. I had been given all that was necessary to compete. All I needed to do was to use what I had been given, make sure it was ready before the adventure began.

If we have dreams that we don’t understand, it is ok to ask God what they mean. What is He trying to communicate to us? Is it just a message for us, or is it something to share with the wider church? Maybe it is both.

When we become Christians, when we are “signed” to a new team. We cease being a part of the old team and are fully integrated into the new. We are given a new outfit so as to be recognised as part of the new team. So too it is with us when we become Christians. We are instantly accepted as part of the team. We have all the resources necessary to be an effective Christian. We get to train with those that have already been in the team for a while, and they are eager to teach us everything they know.

The problem is, sometimes we forget to get dressed in the morning. We assume that we have most of the kit on, and we will be ready to take part when required. The problem is we can never be quite sure when we will be called on to represent the King. The person in front of you at the supermarket may need a word of encouragement. Your work colleague may be going through a particularly tough time and need a “word in season.” Your best friend may be sick and need healing. There is no time to get to a midweek meeting, spend three hours in prayer and worship, before rushing back to find the person in the queue has already finished shopping and has gone home.

We will have tasks and adventures to take part in for the team – and it’s a good idea to get ready – to practice some of the skills required before the game begins. Train with the team. Spend time with the “manager”, absorbing and accepting all He says about tactics, your importance in the team, and how to make sure that you don’t get left out.

Try praying for someone. Try telling a friend about why they should be part of the team too.

Get ready – we get to play with the best team in the world – let’s not miss opportunities available because we haven’t got our socks on yet.

He is all about restoration

img-pulpit_12

Way, way back, when man walked with God in the cool of the day, sin entered the world. We could probably debate for a while as to whether it was the man’s fault or the woman’s fault – but either way, it happened. The result of the fall of man was more than just disobedience – it caused a fracture in the relationship that God had with man.

Man decided that he knew best – and took steps to prove that. God, having given man free will to choose allowed that choice to be made, whatever the consequences.

God did what was necessary – he killed an animal to cover the shame of the man and women and stepped back.

Relationships that are broken do not fix themselves. Something needs to change. Both sides need to invest in the relationship to make it work, to fix it.

Since the fall, God has been all about fixing the relationship that was broken when man sinned. Since this point in history, God’s primary purpose has been to restore mankind back to the relationship that we see in the garden of Eden.

The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter what we have done, it doesn’t matter what mess we have made of our lives, or indeed the lives of others, if we truly repent, turn to Jesus and accept Him as Lord of our lives, He turns to us with open arms and welcomes us in to the family. All the benefits of being an adopted son are ours. God has a plan for each of us, and if one thing about that plan can be guaranteed it is that it is much much better than we think it could possibly be. We are meant to change the world as Christians, and with the Grace, Love and Power lavished on us by our Heavenly Father, we can.

What troubles me is that recently there has been an increase in some circles of the western church that seems to be choosing when and to whom they allow to benefit from such Grace. It seems that it does matter who you are, or rather what position you hold or the job that you do.

If you are a church leader and you mess up, especially if you try and hide that mess from your church you don’t qualify for the Grace that God offers. I’ve seen several reports recently about church leaders who have been removed from office due to sin (sometimes over a long period) and have been ostracised by the church at large. I’ve seen suggestions that they should remove themselves completely and never seek to lead a church again.

Now, I do believe that if there has been sin exposed it is only right and proper that the church request that the leader take some time away from leadership to reconnect with the Father, to restore their relationship with the one who is all about restoring relationships. If a marriage is struggling, one of the first suggestions made is that both parties should stop doing something that is taking lots of their time, and spend time working on their relationship.

I don’t see that it is different with church leaders. If there has been sin, especially habitual, hidden sin, something has clearly gone wrong in that relationship they had with God when they took office, and they need to spend time to restore that relationship.

If the relationship is restored, and true repentance has occurred, why does the church decide that God wouldn’t want them back? The message that is being sent to those outside the church is that repentance make no difference. The world already believes that God only wants those who appear pure. The fact that none of us are good enough without Jesus is lost from the world’s perspective (and it seems form sections of the church too)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

We have all messed up – we all need Jesus to help us, especially church leaders. I can’t help thinking that what Jesus would say to a church leader truly repentant is “Then neither do I condemn you, “Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)

Surely if Jesus isn’t going to condemn them, neither should we.

(just for the record, I don’t think this is just for church leaders, it is for all of us that find ourselves short of what is required. It is just that it was articles about church leaders that got me thinking)