Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The God of Abram Praise

The grace of God that calls us to be His own is also the grace of God that leads us in His particular way.  God called Abraham by grace while he was an idolater in Ur.  God called him to go where God would show Him, not where God told him in advance.  Abraham trusted the God of grace and followed.  Thomas Olivers in his great hymn “The God of Abraham Praise” reminds us that the God who both called and led Abraham will still lead us today. 
At my dad’s funeral I intertwined the majestic and hopeful words of this hymn with my sermon.  My dad died of Alzheimer’s disease.  He hardly knew anything at the time he died.  If he remembered the name of God he could not say it.  Verse 4 of this hymn declares, however, that by His great grace God remembers us and His promises to us.  “He by Himself has sworn; I on His oath depend, I shall, on eagle wings up borne to Heav’n ascend. I shall behold His face; I shall His power adore, and sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.”
We all are called to follow God to the end He has chosen for us.  For some, like my dad, that somewhere might be the emptiness of Alzheimer’s.  It might be a land of vacant mind and vague memories.  It might be the utter loneliness of being in a land where you don’t even know yourself.  But God knows.  God has led.  God will keep.  The end of Abraham’s journey was as much in the care and grace of God as the beginning.  All the mighty deeds along the way; all the practice of faith in times of trial; all the triumphant victories of God displayed before our eyes can fade into a blank of nothingness, but God has not done so.  He is still the God who led us out from the darkness of sin into His brilliant light of hope.  That light still shines.  Those promises still hold. The God of Abraham is still leading and caring until our earthly end.  Then the great God of Abraham, in the marvelous revelation of His grace, will reveal to us the Promised Land. 

We are not forsaken.  We are remembered by our God. We are remembered by the God who called Abraham.  Sing these words of Thomas Olivers with great hope. “The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace shall guide me all my happy days, in all my ways.
He calls a worm His friend, He calls Himself my God! And He shall save me to the end, thro’ Jesus’ blood.”

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Monday, May 30, 2016

A Rainbow on the Cloud

Eliza Hewitt, the prolific American hymnist (she wrote over 1700 hymns) penned a hymn little known or used anymore, “A Rainbow on the Cloud”.  The chorus goes, “There’s a rainbow on the cloud for you; there’s a promise that is sure and true; yes, the storm will pass away; there will dawn a brighter day—there’s a rainbow on the cloud for you.”  With these words we find the grace of God given to Noah after he came off the ark.  God gave a promise and a sign for that promise.  God gave the rainbow. 
The rainbow was a covenental sign that God would never again flood the earth.  But it is also a sign that can be taken as a visual promise from God.  God was concerned enough about man and man’s fears and weaknesses to make a grand promise to us.  God makes many grand promises and God keeps them all.  When we see the rainbow in the clouds we can know that God is above the clouds of our life.  He is over us in His protective care.  He does not prevent the rain or the storm, but He is behind every cloud with His wonderful promises.
In the storms of life we might often be tempted to believe that God has somehow turned His back from us, even if it is just for a moment.  But God’s promise is to the contrary.  He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  That means that He won’t leave us for even a moment.  We need to look up in our times of distress and see the rainbow in the clouds.  We need to make it a very special reality for our lives that God has given a constant sign of His grace. 

By grace He saved Noah and in grace He gave Him a symbol of His care.  That symbol He placed in the heavens so that we might look up to Him in every storm that comes our way.  Today we have another great symbol of His grace.  We have the cross.  As we behold the cross our eyes are drawn upward to heaven.  From there we know that we receive His constant grace and care for all our life.   We can gladly sing with Eliza Hewitt the final stanza of her hymn, “There’s a rainbow on the cloud! tho’ your soul is sorrow-bowed, lift your voice to praise the Lord today; there’s a rainbow ’round the throne; In its glory we will own that He led us in His perfect way.”  The way of grace is full of hope and promise.  Claim it today. 

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Scenes of Grace 5

A great hymn of assurance, “A Shelter in the Time of Storm”, is given to us by Vernon Charlesworth.  Picture Noah and his family singing this hymn during the 40 days and nights of the deluge.  Verse three of the hymn begins, “The raging storms may round us beat”.  Think of being in that ark when outside all was dark except for the streaks of lightning.  The thunder beat a steady bass drum of dread.  Rain cascaded on the roof of the pitching vessel while the winds howled out God’s fury against the wickedness of man.  Inside that fragile retreat of the ark sat the surviving members of the human race along with all the animals to repopulate the earth. In this picture we find a great scene of grace.
We have two cats and a dog at our house.  Cleaning up after them helps me understand why our landfills are so full.  Noah had two of everything and at least seven of all clean animals. Every farmer knows how much work it is to clean the stables and barns.  There were only eight people on the ark to take care of the vast needs.  How did they do it?  They did it by grace.  God had to have done something miraculous to make it possible.  He had given them a great load to bear and His grace must have intervened to make them succeed in bearing it.  The ark was their means of safety.  God would care for them in it. 
The cross is our means of safety.  Jesus asks us to bear that cross.  It is a weight that we cannot bear on our own.  It is too heavy for us.  Jesus said that He would bear it with us.  His word tells us that His grace is sufficient for us in doing His will.  We could not survive the storms of this life bearing the cross of Jesus Christ without grace.  God’s grace preserved Noah and his family.  The miracle of His grace superseded the impossibility of their position.  Today it is the same.  God’s preserving grace carries us every day.  His manifest grace overcomes what cannot be done by human means.   

Knowing and understanding this great grace helps us confidently sing, “The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide – a shelter in the time of storm; secure whatever ill betide – a shelter in the time of storm.”  Praise the Rock today.  Thank Him for His great preserving grace. 

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Scenes of Grace 4

Today we move on to Genesis chapter 6.  It is not that there are no scenes of grace in chapters 4 and 5, but we could never record all the scenes of grace in the Scriptures.  Chapter 6 reveals a situation of great need and a provision of great grace.  Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”  Philip Bliss’s great Gospel song “The Light of the World is Jesus” describes the scene in Genesis 6.  He wrote, “The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin.” Chapter 6 also records God’s great grace in the face of this great darkness.  In chapter 6 we find this wonderful verse, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  
Humanity was corrupt before God.  God said of mankind, “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  In consequence of this great sinful condition God was about to destroy humanity.  The wages of sin is indeed death.  “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  When judgment was determined, God provided an escape from judgment through grace.  Grace is unmerited, so there is no means by human reasoning why God gave grace to Noah.  Noah responded to God’s grace with faith.  He said yes to God’s offer of grace and then obeyed God in building the ark.  The result was that Noah and all of his family was saved from destruction. 
Noah’s Ark became the means of their salvation.  They got inside of it and were spared from the wrath of God.  In the same way Jesus Christ is our ark of salvation.  We believe in Him and are placed “in” Him by God the Father.  Now all those who have placed their faith in Him are safe from the anger of God against sin.  It is still the work of grace which is responded to with faith.  God’s system has not changed.  God gives grace which brings us to faith and leads us to safety in the ark of God’s preservation. 

Philip Bliss told of the darkness of the world in sin.  That darkness led to man’s judgment and death.  But God sent Light to shine into our darkness so that we could see His grace and be saved.  As Noah in obedience built the ark, today we are come to the Light for our salvation.  “Come to the Light, ‘tis shining for thee; sweetly the Light has dawned upon me.  Once I was blind, but now I can see; the Light of the world is Jesus.”  Rejoice in God’s grace of Light and life, Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Scenes of Grace 3

How do a beloved Christmas carol and the fall of man converge?  In the 4th stanza of Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” we find the musical version of the scene of grace that played out in the Garden of Eden in Genesis three.  Eve had been deceived by Satan and ate of the forbidden fruit.  Adam chose Eve over God and ate it with her.  God pronounced His judgment on Satan and man.  But then God demonstrated the wonders of His grace.
 Along with the curse to the serpent God gave a promise of hope for all mankind.  He said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed: He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  This is the first promise of the Messiah given in Scripture and also the first promise of the Virgin birth.  Man had sinned and broken fellowship with God. God in grace would send a Champion for man, a Redeemer, a Conquering Seed to overcome the curse and set things right. 
Charles Wesley picks up this great doctrinal truth in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.  In stanza 4 of the carol he wrote, “Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, bruise in us the serpent’s head. Now display Thy saving power; ruined nature now restore.”  This verse is missing in many hymnals today.  When it is inserted it omits the last part of Wesley’s 4th stanza and mixes it with his 5th stanza which reads, “Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface; stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above, reinstate us in Thy love.”

Wesley set forth the great doctrine of grace as demonstrated by God in Genesis 3.  Man had sinned and deserved death.  That was the penalty that had been forewarned.  Man did indeed die, or at least entered into the process of death.  But God in grace killed an animal instead of man and clothed them with garments of animal skin.  He made a substitute for them.  He also gave them the promise of One who would come and win their war with death and restore their original nature and fellowship with God.  Such great grace cannot be fathomed.  The pure and holy would die (have His heel bruised) for the impure and rebellious.  Not only that, but man could live in the constant hope of it happening.  God’s grace gave them both life and hope.  Surely we set our joyful hearts singing along with Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.  

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scenes of Grace 2

We turn today to another beautiful hymn by Civilla Martin, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”.  As we found God’s great and marvelous grace in Psalm 90 “from everlasting”, picturing Genesis 1 “In the beginning”, we find a new scene of grace in Genesis 2.  God had made the sparrows and all the other creatures.  He had also made man.  For all the creatures God had created a mate.  For man He had not yet done so.  In Genesis 2 we find God saying, “It is not good that man should be alone.”  God was concerned with the sparrows and God was concerned with Adam.  
Civilla Martin asks, “Why should I be discouraged? Why should my heart be lonely?”  She answers her question emphatically that she need not be because “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”  I feed the birds in my yard year around.  More sparrows come to my feeder than any other type of bird.  It reminds me that there are a lot of sparrows.  They seem to be the most prolific birds around.  Yet, God cares for each of them.  Not one falls to the ground without the Father taking notice.  If He notices the sparrows and cares for them, how much more does He care for His own dear children?
In His marvelous grace God saw that Adam was incomplete by himself.  God had given him all the animals as companions, but it wasn’t enough.  He had given him a job to do, but it wasn’t enough.  He had given all the good food and living environment that he needed, but it wasn’t enough.  God didn’t chastise Adam for being incomplete.  He loved Adam and he wanted what was best for His special creation, so God gave Adam a wife.  His grace was concerned for the need of Adam and His power satisfied that need.

God is still concerned for the sons of Adam.  Although we have sinned and offended Him in every way imaginable, He still sees our need and desires to help. This time a wife won’t do.  This time we need a Savior so He sent us His Son.  In grace He hung on the cross and died for us.  In power He was raised from the dead.  Now He takes us as His bride, his special new creation for the perfect Adam.  From the Garden to the Cross to Eternity God’s grace is revealed to us.  We can joyfully sing with Civilla, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free; for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”  The grace of God never rests.  

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Scenes of Grace

The oldest hymn still sung by the church was probably written by Moses.  It is Psalm 90.  The father of modern hymnody, Isaac Watts, paraphrased that psalm in his hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”.  The third stanza of Watts’ hymn is from the second verse of the psalm.  “Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame; from everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same.”  It is in this point of “everlasting” past that we see our first scene of grace in the Scriptures.
In First Peter 1:18-20 we discover a scene that took place “Before the hills in order stood”.  Peter tells us that we are saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ that was “ordained” to be shed for our sins BEFORE the foundation of the world.  Before we were, God had prepared grace for our needs.  This God who was from everlasting and will be the same to everlasting is the God of grace.  It was His nature before He made a single atom of all of creation.  It is His nature to oversee with grace all the atoms of His creation.  It will be by His grace that all the atoms are recreated in perfection for eternity. 
Isaac Watts wrote, “To endless years the same”.  Malachi recorded God’s word to the returned remnant of Israel in chapter 3 of his book.  Here God said, “For I am the Lord; I do not change.”  The author of Hebrews said of Jesus Christ, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  The God of grace, who would plan before He made man or any other creation to sacrifice His own Son for our offenses against Him, is the same God of grace who cares for His flock every day.  He changes not.  The power He displayed in creating the heavens and the earth is the same power He uses today to care for His church.  In Matthew 28 Jesus said to His disciples, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye.”  The power of Christ goes with His church every day.

It is easy to see why we can title Isaac Watts’ hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”.   The God of power and grace is the God who has helped us even before time began.  Reflect on these rich words, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!”  

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Grace Thoughts

In her beautiful hymn “Accepted in the Beloved” Civilla Martin shares a variety of wonderful thoughts about grace.  Each of them could be a meditation in itself.  We have looked at many hymns, Gospel songs and choruses over the past 5 weeks.  Each of them has proclaimed the marvelous grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ.  The time that we spend thanking God for His indescribable grace each day is insufficient to generate the depth of gratitude and praise that His grace should elicit.  Grace needs to become a more common theme in our thoughts and on our tongues.  Civilla Martin captures some of that for us.
She begins, “In the Beloved accepted am I”.  Grace places us in Christ.  Christ is in heaven in the very presence of the Father.  We are there with Him.  Christ is in control. We are under His gracious control.  Christ is unruffled. We are secure.  Christ has been approved by God and raised from the dead.  So are we.  We are in the Beloved Son of God Jesus Christ.  Just to reflect on that should keep us busy for eternity.  All of her first stanza concentrates on this great truth that is effected by “His infinite grace”. 
Civilla’s second stanza stresses our security in Christ.  In Him we lack nothing.  She says, “In the Beloved accounted complete”.  Completely what?  We are complete in the righteousness of Christ.  We are complete in the promises of Christ.  We are complete in the relationship of Christ to His Father.  The brokenness of our lives has been restored in the completeness of His forgiving grace.  Our hope is complete for Jesus said, “It is finished”. 
Her last verse records the work of Christ to make us accepted and complete.  By God’s “Infinite Grace” the wrath of the Father against our sins was poured on the head of His own dear Son.  She describes it as “infinite wrath rolling over His head”.  Then she exclaims, “Infinite grace, for He died in my stead.”  The punishment of the cross was really ours to bear.  But beyond the cross the grave was ours to keep us in eternal darkness and despair.  But by infinite grace “He died in my stead”. 

All of this should warm our heart not just occasionally but constantly.  We are, as Civilla says, “In the Beloved, God’s marvelous grace; calls me to dwell in this wonderful place; God sees my Savior and then He sees me, in the Beloved, accepted and free.”  Let these abundant grace thoughts fill you with joy, praise, thanksgiving and contentment today.  

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Comprehensive Grace Part 2

In the 12 century Bernard of Clairvaux wrote these lines which are now part of the hymn “Wide Open Are Your Hands”: “Open wide your arms, a fallen world embrace, to win to love and endless rest our wayward human race.  Lord, I am sad and poor, but boundless is your grace; give me the soul transforming joy for which I seek your face.”  Bernard was totally captivated in this hymn with the grace of God.  The boundlessness of God’s grace should indeed captivate every redeemed heart and mind.
A few years ago we had a very wet summer.  A friend of ours had her basement wall cave in due to the excessive hydraulic pressure.  I asked if her insurance covered it.  The sad answer was that it did not.  Comprehensive insurance isn’t always very comprehensive.  I asked our insurance agent if we were covered.  We were not.  Now we are, but it cost us extra to do so.  Our insurance is now more comprehensive, but I am sure there will be holes in it that we will only find out in a catastrophe.  It is sad to expect something and then to discover that it isn’t really covered after all.
That does not happen with God.  His grace is boundless.  It is comprehensive.  His grace covers all.  If we honestly assess how much we had offended God before we came to Him as Savior, we would realize that we had a debt too big to pay.  If we honestly assess how much we have offended the laws of God since we came to Him as Savior we would only discover our utter unworthiness to still be called His child.  But God’s grace is comprehensive.  It covers all.  It forgets our past, forgives our present and forecasts our future hope with Him in heaven for eternity. 

Bernard’s response to this boundless grace was a heartfelt cry to have his whole mind and heart caught up daily into the acute awareness of God.  In response to this boundless grace Bernard offered up the greatest sacrifice he could give – himself.  Meditate today on the last lines of this great hymn that extols God’s boundless grace.  “Draw all my mind and heart up to your throne on high.  And let your sacred cross exalt my spirit to the sky.  To these, Your mighty hands, my spirit I resign.  In life I live alone to you; in death am yours alone.”  Thanks be to God for grace that covers us so comprehensively and rightly deserves all our sacrifice. 

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Comprehensive Grace

“Complete in Thee, no other need; Thy grace abundant is my plea.  Whole at last in Christ alone; by grace my life complete in Thee.”  These simple lines express so clearly the truth that God’s grace is fully comprehensive.  We have looked at grace from A to Z and have barely begun to plumb the fullness of grace.  We can go over and over the alphabet to add on to the picture of the complete sufficiency of God’s grace.  If we ran out of words in our language we would have to make up more just to express the truth of how full the grace of God is.  But we will step back from alphabetizing for a while and see God’s grace in His word and in our lives from different perspectives.
Last week my wife and I took a short vacation.  It did not get off to the best start.  We were going to see our new grandson 230 miles from our home.  We had gone 50 miles when we heard an unpleasant “bump”.  The car didn’t react as if I had a flat tire, so we drove on.  A couple of miles later I had no power steering.  The air conditioner wasn’t working.  The engine was overheating.  It was 90 degrees outside and we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Then, right in front of us was an exit.  We pulled off and found that the serpentine belt had broken.  A few hundred yards from where we stopped was a truck repair shop.  They helped us find a tow truck and a car mechanic.  Our son from our own town drove the 52 miles to pick us up and returned us the next day to pick up our fixed car and continue our trip. 

This kind of thing can happen to both the saved and the lost.  Does this mean that grace wasn’t involved?  I saw grace in it.  I saw a reason to be thankful in it.  Actually there turned out to be multiple reasons to be thankful that came about over the next few days.  I saw God’s care and felt God’s peace.  The Bible says that God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Who gets better mileage out of the rain?  Those who can see God’s grace in the heavenly drops.  Look for God’s grace in the sunshine and rain of your life.  It will enrich you greatly.  A heart full of thanks will produce a life full of joy. “Complete through grace, no other need; with heart of thanks for Christ’s supply. By joy enriched on Christ I feed; complete in Thee no other need.”  

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Zealous Grace

In Annie Coghill’s revival hymn “Work, for the Night Is Coming” we are constantly reminded to work.  How are we to work?  We are to work zealously.  Paul told Titus to tell his congregation to be zealous for good works.  Why are we to be zealous for good works?  We are to do this in response to God’s grace to us.  We were saved by grace to be zealous for good works so that men might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.  We conclude our alphabet today with “Z” for zealous grace. 
In many of the ways that we have seen grace going through the grace alphabet, it has been the work of God’s grace toward us.  But grace toward us is also to be grace in us and grace through us.  We are now to manifest the greatness of God’s grace as we live in this world.  He did not extend His wonderful grace to us that we might just soak it up like a sponge.  A saturated sponge is a soggy thing.  We are to keep the sponge busy spreading around the grace of God and then get our sponges refilled to spread it around some more.  That spreading around of God’s grace is called good works and we are to be zealous to do them.
We see that Jesus was Himself zealous for the work of God.  John records in his gospel that when Jesus cleansed the temple it fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy that He would be zealous for His Father’s house.  Today we are His Father’s house.  We have become the temple of God.  We need to be zealous in doing good works for those in the church first.  But we are also servants in the Father’s field which is the world.  We need to be as zealous to reap in His field as we are to do good works for those who are His temple. 

Annie Coghill’s song reminds us that we only have so much time to work.  We should not put off getting it done until some more convenient time.  Satan will lure us with many things that will mean we will never find a convenient time.  Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.”  Not only do we have a limited time to do God’s work, others have a limited time to hear it.  Let us sing joyfully and zealously as we get about the work of God.  “Work, for the night is coming. Work through the morning hours.  Work when the dew is sparkling.  Work mid springing flowers . . . Work for the night is coming, when man works no more.”  Go forth with zeal and work with zealous grace.     

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Yearned for Grace

In her sweet testimonial hymn “Satisfied!” Clara Williams clearly captures the condition of humanity.  Her opening stanza “All my life long I had panted for a drink from some clear spring that I thought would quench the burning of the thirst I felt within” paints an accurate picture of the desires of mankind.  While not seeking for God, which Romans 3 emphatically points out that we do not do, we search for the benefits of the grace of God.  We yearn for grace. Yearned will be our “Y” in alphabetizing grace. 
What do we yearn for that grace provides?  We yearn for forgiveness from all our sins against God and man.  People realize that simple self forgiveness is not enough.  In Christ we have complete forgiveness through the grace of God.  We yearn for hope.  The macro-world and the micro-world often set us into a state of despondency.  All is not right and the future is very uncertain.  Where is hope?  The Bible says hope comes from God and His abundant grace.  When both the macro-world and micro-world are spinning out of control both now and the future, God is the same and offers the constancy of hope.  We yearn for a certainty of a positive outcome after death.  The Bible tells us that that certainty is heaven and it is reached by grace through faith in the work of Christ on the cross.  We yearn for a constant friend. Worldly friends and family can often be fickle or unresponsive to us.  This is why Joseph Scriven’s hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” resonates so loudly.  The world wants a constant friend and by grace God has given His Son to be ours. 

Technically we do not yearn for God.  We do, however, yearn for the blessings of God.  We should take heart that the God of those blessings came to seek us out and give them to us.  One of the simplest and easiest to remember of all verses in the Bible is this verse of comfort, purpose and hope in Luke 19:10.  “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Grace sought us that we might have the yearnings of our hearts fulfilled.  With Clara Williams sing her triumphant chorus, “Hallelujah! I have found Him Whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings – through His blood I now am saved.”  O the great fulfillment of yearned for grace!  

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Xaris Equals Grace

In any good treasure hunting movie we learn that “X” marks the spot.  Our “X” is for Xaris, the Greek word for Grace.  It is pronounced with a “CH” sound as in Christian.  Our English letter “x” comes from this letter, but it did not keep the sound.  What we do like the sound of, however, is the sound of grace as in John Newton’s hymn, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound”. 
Xaris is on the list of frequently used words in the New Testament.  It is used 153 times. It is the mother word for Xara which is used 59 times, Xairo which is used 74 times, Xarisma which is used 17 times, euXaristos which is used 55 times and Xaristao which is used only twice.  All forms of this word are used 300 times in the New Testament.  That means that it is a pretty “x”citing word to learn.  Grace is indeed “x”citing.  Just the thought of God’s amazing grace should get us up and singing a rousing chorus of praise.
Xaris is also an “x”ceedingly important word.  Without it there is no joy (Xara), no thanksgiving (euXaristos), no rejoicing (Xairo) not to mention none of God’s wonderful gifts (Xarisma).  What would the Christian do without these “x”ceedingly important parts of God’s wonderful grace?  These beautiful words are also translated as favor, gladness, accepted, thanks and variations of these words.  All that is part of God’s “x”ceedingly wonderful and “x”citing grace.  When we think of grace we need to grasp the whole of what it means.  It means everything that we find necessary for a positive outlook on life.  It means everything that makes us really pleasing to those around us.  It means everything required for personal peace.  All of this is wrapped up in one little word “grace”. 

It is no wonder that so many songs are written about grace.  Philip Doddridge wrote a hymn that is little used anymore.  It is titled “Grace! ‘Tis a Charming Sound”.  The first stanza reads, “Grace! ‘Tis a charming sound, harmonious to the ear; heaven with the echo shall resound, and all the earth shall hear.”  The fifth stanza concludes with a plea to make God’s “x”citing grace an integral part of our life.  “O let Thy grace inspire, my soul with strength divine; may all my powers to Thee aspire, and all my days be Thine.”  That is truly a proper attitude toward God’s “x”ceedingly wonderful grace.  

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wonderful Grace

Haldor Lillenas’s great hymn “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” is aimed at making one point very clear - the grace of God is wonderful.  Each stanza begins with “wonderful grace of Jesus” and each stanza ends with “wonderful grace of Jesus”.  We have reached “W” and that will be for the wonderful grace of Jesus.
What does wonderful really mean to us?  Its actual definition means to fill with wonder.  It could be used in a negative way.  At the end of a long day at work the boss brings in a stack of papers that need to be finished before you can go home.  “Wonderful,” you mutter under your breath.  Of course, it fills you with wonder at how the boss could be so inconsiderate to wait until 4:45 to dump three more hours of work on you.  That would be a negative wonderful. 
Then you see the sharpest, speediest and most efficient worker in the office go past your door.  She looks in and sees what has just happened.  She comes into your office and takes off her coat and says, “We can probably get this done in an hour if we work together.” 
Wow!  You say, “Wonderful!  Thank you so much!”  That is positive wonderful and it fills you with wonder at the kindness, the concern, the care, the camaraderie and the self sacrificing nature of your co-worker.  You are filled with wonder that anyone could do such an onerous task in your behalf.  It fills you with gratitude and joy and peace and thanksgiving.   That is the wonderful grace of Jesus. 
Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  He has taken the burden of our sin and nailed it to Calvary’s cross.  He has taken the burden of our condemnation and carried it to hell and rose again to life for our hope.  He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He has promised to be there as our burden bearer for all time and eternity.  Isn’t that wonderful?  He did all that for us when we were yet sinners and opposed to him in mind, heart and body.  He did it all by His wonderful grace. 

We need to sing of His grace. We need to proclaim such wonderful grace from the housetops. We need to respond in genuine gratitude demonstrated in our daily lives for such wonderful grace.  Indeed we can sing with Haldor Lillenas, “Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin.  How shall my tongue describe it?  Where shall its praise begin?”  O the wonderful, wonderful exceedingly wonderful grace of God.  

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Victorious Grace

Fanny Crosby’s rousing and triumphant anthem “Victory Through Grace” proclaims the mighty power of God’s grace for the soldiers of the cross.  The chorus makes it clear that God’s people will not conquer by strength or speed.  They will have their victory through the promised grace of God.  “Not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race.  Yet to the true and the faithful victory is promised through grace.” 
In conflict after conflict the Bible promises this victory through grace.  In Ephesians 2 God promises victory over the conflict of death by His quickening grace.  In Romans 5 God promises victory over the conflict of condemnation by His justifying grace.  In Romans 4 and all of Galatians God promises victory over our conflict with the law by His saving grace.  In II Corinthians 12 God promises victory over the conflict of the weakness of our flesh by His sufficient grace.  In Hebrews 4 God promises victory over the conflict of the despairs of life at His throne of grace. 
As we face the conflicts of life we must always remember that the God of grace is still our God.  Trials, despairs, conflicts, sin, weakness and all other problems of living in this shell of flesh do not separate us from Him. He knows our needs and does not leave us alone to face them.  Jesus came and lived here and experienced sorrows, temptations, trials, hurts and rejection.  Our God of grace fully understands all that we face each day.  We are not alone.  We have One with us, our Ruler, our King, our Victorious Leader, our Risen Savior who is able to sustain us by His grace in everything we face both now and unto eternity. 
With Fanny Crosby we need to stand and sing.  We need to raise our voices loudly in the triumphant proclamation of victory through grace.

 “Conquering now and still to conquer rideth the King in His might! Leading the host of all the faithful into the midst of the fight; see them with courage advancing, clad in their brilliant array, shouting the name of their Leader, hear them exultingly say.  Not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race.  Yet to the true and the faithful victory is promised through GRACE!”

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Unmerited Grace

We return today to Daniel Whittle’s hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed”.  The first stanza of this hymn contains the key idea for God’s unmerited Grace.  Whittle wrote, “I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me he hath made known, nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for His own.”  Unworthy clearly states our condition.   Grace clearly states God’s response.
Why was God moved to save sinners such as us? Was it our good looks?  Was it our natural abilities?  Was it our keen intellects?  Was it our good conduct?  Was it our financial standing?  Was it our important standing in the community? Was it the good benefits that we could offer Him?  Obviously these were not the reasons. Paul told the Corinthians that God did not choose the wise, the mighty, or the noble.  Rather, God chose the weak, the foolish, the despised and those which are accounted as nothing. 
We bring nothing to God.  Our best efforts, Isaiah said, are just a pile of leprosy infected rags.  Peter said our money can’t buy God’s blessing of Jesus Christ.  Paul said that we can’t bring God our works or we would have something to boast about.  We come to God naked, poor, needy and sick.  We come to God as completely tainted failures.  We come, as Daniel Whittle said, unworthy.

That is what makes grace so wonderful.  We do not merit it. God gives it.  God pours out His matchless love, His matchless care, His matchless provision not in response to our value but in response solely to His grace.  Such a gift is too high for us to comprehend.  Such a sacrifice is too great for us to understand.  Our comprehension or understanding, however, is not necessary.  What God wants is for us to receive His grace.  He wants us to take the gift He offers.  He wants us to become His children.  He wants to display His grace to the world by displaying His grace in us, unworthy, unfit, unclean sinners who have been changed by the grace of God.  Let us respond to this great grace by having our lives conform to the familiar words of Elvina Hall’s great consecration hymn “Jesus Paid it All”.  The third verse and chorus read, “For nothing good have I, whereby Thy grace to claim. I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb. Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”  Thanks be to God for His unmerited grace.   

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Thankful Grace

My favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving.  It is a time for family and feasting and singing great songs of praise.  When we consider the origin of some of our favorite Thanksgiving hymns, it inspires us to give ever more heartfelt praise to God for His grace.  Martin Rinkart who wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” did so in the midst of the 30 Years War in Germany.  At the time he wrote this hymn he was serving as the only pastor left living in his city and there was a plague going on.  Think of that as the backdrop for your next Thanksgiving Day celebration.  Another great Thanksgiving hymn is “We Gather Together”.  It was written in the Netherlands during the brutal attacks by the Spanish king against the Dutch Protestants.  War ravaged their land for two generations.   It was called the 80 Years War.  
How could these people be so thankful in the midst of such overwhelming calamities in their lives?  They were thankful for the care they saw coming from God each day.  They were thankful for the certainty of His grace toward them.  They did not equate God’s grace and care with having everything they could imagine in a material way.  They understood that grace and care are ongoing in adversity.  They understood that grace and care were eternal and that what they were experiencing was not what they would always experience.  They were convinced that the words of Paul in Romans 8:36-39 were absolutely true.  They were thankful for a sovereign God who would undergird them in life and keep them in death. 
Thanksgiving is totally integrated into God’s grace.  The very word “thanksgiving” as found in our New Testament is a derivative of the word grace.  Without the word “grace” there is no word “thanksgiving”.  The New Testament word “eucharist” is translated thanksgiving.  It is the same word that we use “Eucharist” to describe the thanksgiving feast of the Lord’s Table.  Perhaps a very literal translation of the word could be “built upon grace”.  That is what thanksgiving is, an attitude of the believer founded on the sure grace of God. 

With Martin Rinkart we can joyously sing with hope and thanksgiving, “O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us.  With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in His GRACE, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills in this world and the next.”  Let God’s rich grace produce genuine thanksgiving in His people.  

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Safe Grace

If I could travel back in time I would like to meet two great women hymnists, Lena Sandell and Frances Havergal.  Their hymns of worship and consecration have greatly enriched the singing of Christ’s church.  Their heart of devotion and faith minister the hope, grace and peace of God to all who will meditate on their words.  One of my absolute favorite hymns is by Lena Sandell, “Children of the Heavenly Father”.  The first line reads, “Children of the Heavenly Father, safely in His bosom gather.  Nesting bird nor star in heaven such a refuge e’er was given.” 
God’s grace is the safest place to be.  Men seek refuge in all manner of things.  They seek safety in financial security.  They seek safety in military might.  They seek safety in medical technology. They seek safety in political power.  They seek safety in knowledge. They constantly seek safety in the things that they can make or hold.  Lena Sandell knew that safety comes from none of those.  Safety comes from the grace of God.  It is only as we throw ourselves on the mercy of His grace that we will ever learn or ever possess true safety.
Jesus tells us that the world of Noah’s day is no different than the world of today.  People were running around doing all the things that people do to have a happy and secure life.  One man, however, sought something different.  He sought God.  That man was Noah and Genesis six tells us that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  By grace he and his family were saved when all the rest of the world perished.  Grace was the safest place to be. 

Grace will comfort us with its safety in every storm of life.  Grace will assure us with its safety in every trial we face.  Grace will uphold us with its safety in every need that we confront. Grace will wrap us safely in the arms of Jesus where our hope and peace and joy is secured by His mighty power forever and forever.  America’s greatest female hymnist, Fanny Crosby, wrote these words that echo those of Lena Sandell.  “Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast; there by His love o’er shaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.”  Rest in the safe arms of God’s grace today.  

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ready Grace

Whenever we have a hymn sing where people can choose the songs they want to sing, one of the first ones always chosen is Joseph Scriven’s “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.  The message of this hymn resonates with everyone.  All of us have sins, griefs, trials, loneliness and cares.  All of us at some point need a friend to come alongside us and comfort us, lift us up, care for us and help us on our way.  Jesus is that someone and He has His grace ready to give us in every need.  His “ready” grace will be our “R” in alphabetizing grace.
The author of Hebrews says in 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  The offer has been placed on the table by God.  If you need grace to help, ask and it shall be given.  If you need mercy, ask and it shall be given.  If you need to talk, talk and I will listen.  He is ready to hear and to meet our needs with His grace.  His grace is always ready to be poured out to His dear children. 
Jesus likens this need meeting grace to a father’s care for his children. If they need bread he will not give a stone.  If they need fish he will not give a scorpion.  So it is with God’s grace.  He isn’t waiting to disappoint us; He is waiting for us to ask that He might pour out the fullness of His grace to meet our needs.  Ask of Him and He will be ready for He loves His children so much that He gave His own Son to die for us.  What then can His gracious hand withhold? 

The readiness of Christ to bestow grace in the hour of our need reminds me of an old Gospel song written by Frederick Lehman that the Willow Wood Boys (a Gospel group I sang with) used to do. “The Royal Telephone” has this first verse and chorus: “Central’s never ‘busy,’ always on the line; you may hear from Heaven almost any time; ’Tis a royal service, free for one and all; when you get in trouble, give this royal line a call.  (Refrain) Telephone to glory, O what joy divine! I can feel the current moving on the line, built by God the Father for His loved and own; we may talk to Jesus thru this royal telephone.” Talk with Him today and find His grace “ready” in your time of need.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Quickening Grace

William Sleeper’s great evangelistic hymn “Ye Must Be Born Again” expresses a clear message of our spiritual state.  It can be summarized this way, “Once born, twice dead; twice born, never die”.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”  Paul amplifies this explanation in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God . . . even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” 
Quickened is an old fashioned word meaning to “make alive”.  We were dead in the spiritual realm and needed to be born again, quickened or made alive, in the spiritual realm.  Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  Jesus says that that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.  God’s spirit enters a person and gives them rebirth.  This is done by the grace of God.  We are quickened by grace. 
This passage in Ephesians 2 is a young preacher’s delight.  It has the simplest 5 point outline of God’s grace. We are Dead in our trespasses and sin. (Vs 1)  We are Disobedient in our conduct before God and man. (Vs 2)  We are Doomed to the wrath of God. (Vs 3)  We are Delivered by the grace of God. (Vs 5)  We are Designed (by grace – vs. 8) for service to God. (Vs 10)  Anytime a simple devotion or Bible study is required on short notice, there is this great passage on grace in Ephesians 2. 

Having been quickened, born again, by God’s grace we can sing a new song of praise to our Redeemer.  John W. Peterson gave us a great new song for just this occasion.  The chorus resounds with the joy of being born again, “New life in Christ, abundant and free! What glories shine, what joys are mine, what wondrous blessings I see!  The past with its sin, the searching and strife, forever gone, there’s a bright new dawn!  For in Christ I have found NEW LIFE!” This is the blessing of quickening grace. 

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Patient Grace

In Gary Paxton’s Gospel song “He Was There All the Time” he makes this simple statement about God’s grace, “He was there all the time, waiting patiently in line”.  In chapter after chapter and book after book in the Bible we see the unimaginable patience of God towards the subjects of His grace.  He calls; He woos; He pleads.  God’s loving grace is seen in the patience of His grace.  Our letter “P” will be patient grace.  
Imagine if God’s standard were “one and done”.  Humanity would have been wiped out in Eden.  When Moses asked Pharaoh to let His people go, Pharaoh made their labor harder.  The Israelites did not respond in faith toward God when that happened.  Israel would still be in bondage to Egypt.  David’s kingdom would have come to an end after the incident with Bathsheba.  Peter, the Christ denier, would be a footnote to the history of the church.  The apostle Paul would have been struck dead by lightening instead of being struck down by light. 
Imagine if God’s standard were “one and done” in our life.  How many received Christ as Savior on first hearing the Gospel?  How many have walked obediently with Christ every day since coming to Him for salvation?  How many trust Him fully in every situation of life?  We are no different than Adam and Eve, the Israelites, David, Peter or Paul.  We are human as they were.  We may think it remarkable that God could be so patient with them while we also need to be honest in how remarkable it is how patient God is with us. 

This patience of Grace, however, cannot lead us to two false conclusions.  The first is that God’s patience extends beyond our death if we have rejected His grace.  It is appointed on to man once to die and after that the judgment.  Judgment will be based on what we did with Christ.  The other error is to think that God is somehow so kindly viewing our constant rebellion that His grace will never allow Him to correct it.  Parental care requires the correction of rebellion in the home and God’s loving parental grace and care requires it in our lives as well.  Still, His Grace is seen in His great patience toward us as He woos the lost and shepherds His sheep.  Sing through Gary Paxton’s song today and praise God for His patient Grace.  

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Omni Grace

In his stately hymn “Immortal, Invisible” Walter Smith lays out in beautiful pictures the grandness of God.  He uses phrasing like, “Most blessed, most glorious . . . almighty victorious” and “Unresting, unhasting nor wanting or wasting”.  We get a picture of a grand and glorious God who is unequaled.  We see the great God of the three O’s that we teach children are some of His key attributes: Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent. Since God is those things, so is grace.
When we think of the greatness of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that He knows all our sins.  He is omniscient.  There is nothing that we had ever done in open or in secret that He does not know.  We have never thought a thought that He did not hear.  All of the vileness of all of those sins was on our known record before God.  But in grace He sent His Son.  In grace He loved us.  In grace He forgave us.  That is the grace of omniscience.
How could He do something as unimaginable as that?  The most powerful court in the world could not erase and forget every thought, word and deed that offended God and man.  It would require someone who is all powerful, omnipotent, to accomplish that feat.  Our sins can be forgiven because He can.  He is powerful enough to accomplish all His will, and His will is to redeem sinful man from the curse of the fall and forgive all who will come to His Son in faith.  That is the grace of omnipotence.
How far does this grace extend?  We can hear it in His Word at church.  We can read about it in His Word at home.  What about at work where we are rightly concentrating on our jobs?  What about at play where we are concentrating on safety or a good time of camaraderie with our friends.  Yes, His grace is there as well.  His grace is there because He is there.  He who said, “I will never leave thee” meant it.  Where we go His grace goes with us.  It must because He is there with us as well.  That is omnipresent grace. 

Samuel Davies and John Newton combined in the great hymn “Great God of Wonders!” After extolling the very greatness of God they address the very heart of His glory as expressed in His grace. “But the fair glories of Thy grace, more Godlike and unrivaled shine.”  All the power and knowledge and presence of God shine forth in His grace.  Praise Him with the chorus of this Davies/Newton hymn, “Who is a pardoning God like thee? Or who has grace, so rich and free? Or who has grace so rich and free?”  

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