Tuesday, August 25, 2015

God Uses Nobodies

Jesus demonstrated during his life on this earth the secret of being used of God. It is a complete dependence on God and a total renunciation of self-reliance. Jesus did this by maintaining a consistent prayer life with his father. He got his directions, empowerment and approval from his father. Oswald Chambers very eloquently writes about this important principle:

God can achieve his purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources."[i]

I don’t know which is a bigger miracle, a nobody who believes God can use him or a somebody who abandons self-reliance. Either way it is the way God uses people, and it all comes down to whether or not we will depend on God.

The Apostle Paul has given us nearly half of the New Testament with his epistles and outside of Christ is the most influential person in Christianity. He had an incredible grasp of this truth and made it a theme in all his writing. Paul had been arrogant and proud of his pedigree and educational credentials, but when he met Christ, he considered all that loss for the gain of knowing Christ. The proud Saul became the humble Paul.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he amply covers this subject of our human frailty and weakness. Paul had learned that human weakness, when surrendered to God, becomes the arena for God to display his extraordinary power. This verse offers a beautiful picture of the concept of dependence on God.

2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

The metaphor clearly describes that God has given to us his power which is displayed in our frail humanity. This treasure is God’s and must be seen as God’s not ours. That’s the hard part because human beings like to be praised for their accomplishments. When God, however, uses a nobody and showcases his power, there is no mistaking who did the work. Only in dependence on God can we really see God do the impossible things we need to see. Only God knows what is ahead and how it all fits together. To live any way but in dependence of him is complete folly for the believer.

[i] Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1967), p.60.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

God Loves Mercy

God loves mercy. It is one of the attributes of his character. He shows us mercy every day. However, God wants to see us show mercy to others. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were critical of him because he shared the company of sinners, he responded with these words, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:13). Jesus was quoting the prophet Hosea who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet was telling the people that offering God sacrifices and burnt offerings by themselves without a life of mercy was meaningless to God.

These religious leaders were so threatened by Jesus’ ministry that they dogged Jesus’ every move. Luke explains that on one Sabbath as Jesus entered the synagogue, there was a man with a shriveled hand. The Pharisees were carefully watching to make sure he did not heal this man on the Sabbath and thus work on the Sabbath which would break the fourth commandment (Luke 6:6-8).

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he confronted their thoughts by asking them, “which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:9). Jesus did this as he had the man with the paralyzed hand stand in front of everyone. In other words, if we see a person in need and have the means to help them and refuse, we have just done evil. To stand by and watch a life be destroyed is to be complicit to that death. This is undoubtedly a strong argument against abortion and assisted suicide. But, it’s more than that, it is about showing mercy when we have an opportunity to do so.

Jesus healed the man in front of everyone. Everyone was astounded! Well everyone but the Pharisees that is. One would think that this miracle would have been all the proof the Pharisees needed to believe in the authenticity of Jesus, but no it wasn’t. Luke says, “But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:11).

Today Christians are often labeled as intolerant, but is that really true?

Kent Hughes writes:

Does Christianity really make a difference? Is there a difference between card-carrying, Bible-believing Christians and their culture in situations needing mercy? According to some pollsters and social commentators, Christians are prime candidates for intolerance. However, this was statisti­cally put to the test in 1983 in a book entitled The Religious Factor in Australian Life. Part of the survey asked people about their attitudes toward various groups - people with criminal records, emotionally unstable people, people of a different race, members of minority religions, students, people in sects or cults, left-wing extremists, immigrants/foreign workers, never-married mothers, unemployed persons, heavy drinkers, aborigines, people with large families, homosexuals.

The answers were analyzed according to various religious groupings, and an "index of tolerance" was created. Can you guess who was most tolerant? Not liberals, not Catholics, not evangelicals, but conservative fundamentalists, by a significant margin. Those with no religion came in last' So much for the pundits.[i]

True faith demonstrates mercy. It did when William Wilberforce was the single most powerful voice in stopping slavery in England, and his life had a great influence on Abraham Lincoln. That same faith was instrumental in protecting children and elevating women. It is that same faith that works to protect the unborn and find places for those children who need a safe home. There are so many needs, and if we want to be like Jesus, then we will show mercy to those in need.

[i] R. Kent Hughes, Luke, Volume One, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 1998, PP. 203-204.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grace That Transforms

We all know how disheartening it is to do something in vain. The gardener is disappointed that her new flowers are destroyed by the thunderstorm. The workers are upset when mindless pedestrians trample the freshly poured concrete. We are even disappointed when we drive to work only to realize we have forgotten the key or card to gain access. But, perhaps there is no waste as great as the waste of a life, and that happens when we waste God’s grace that is given to us, totally undeserving of it.

A Dennis the Menace cartoon shows Dennis and his young friend Joey walking away from the next-door neighbors’ house. Both boys have their hands loaded with cookies. Joey asks, “I wonder what we did to deserve this?” Dennis responds, “Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” That is precisely true of God’s grace, too. When it comes to grace, the scriptures teach that our reception is the key. How we respond to God is going to make all the difference in the world.

The prophet Isaiah contrasts God’s generous gifts with our disappointing lives. Instead of receiving the rewards of his carefully planted and cultivated vineyard, God finds sour grapes. Isaiah’s illustration shows us that God did everything necessary to produce beautiful grapes but only found bad fruit (Isaiah 5:1-30).

God knows us better than we know ourselves, and our excuses don’t hold water with him. The “if only” excuses, such as “If only I had more time” or “If only I had more money” are meaningless with God. “If only my circumstances were different.” Ultimately it is our way of blaming someone else for our mistakes and our refusal to acknowledge sin in our lives.[i]

Isaiah holds up six wild bunches of grapes with a warning to the Israelites, and each begins with a “Woe.” The first is a “Woe to the Greedy” (Isa 5:8-9). Their greed caused them to crave for more. Greed fuels unquenchable desire for more and more, whether it is for money, things or pornography. The best way to deal with greed is to surrender your will to God’s. In doing so one learns to be content with what he has.

The second bunch is a “Woe to the Addicted” (Isa 5:11-12). Alcohol has the power to take control of our minds and bodies and become our master. However, the prophet’s words are more far reaching than just alcohol; he is using alcohol as an illustration. In the way that wine inflames, he says my people are stirred, but it’s not for me they are stirred. They are passionate about their own pursuits of pleasure, but have no regard for me.

The third bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Carry Burdens of Sin” (Isa 5:18-19). We all get hurt, but we don’t all forgive, and when we don’t, our way is blurred. In fact, we lose our way. We carry with us resentment, bitterness and even hatred. We draw it along behind us from one year to the next. Nothing is as deceptive as sin. It makes us doubt God’s love and forgiveness for us.  

The fourth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Rationalize Sin” (Isa 5:20). This is what is happening everywhere today from Washington to our individual choices. We redefine and relabel sin so that it is no longer sin in our eyes. What God has commanded is no longer as important as it once was. The Supreme Court now makes decisions based on what the culture thinks.

The fifth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Are Wise in Their Own Eyes” (Isa 5:21). In truth we think we know more than God. This is self-confidence to the point of rejecting God’s law and following our own false reasoning.

The sixth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Have a Double Life” (Isa 5:22-23). God expects authenticity, and he has given us the means to stay relationally pure with him. When we don’t, we deceive ourselves because he knows our hearts.

God gives his grace to us so that we accept it and let it transform us. Isaiah says that God made us for his purposes. Isaiah says it this way: “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa 43:7).

Life is really short, so much shorter than we can realize—here today and gone tomorrow. Those who live for themselves will die with regret, and those who live for God’s glory will find a satisfaction in life that is from God. Let God’s grace transform you. We were made to live for God’s Glory!

[i] Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. Isaiah (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005) p. 67.