Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wonderful Peace Through Grace

If you were asked to assess your life up to today, what would you say?  Would you sing along with John Peterson, “Jesus Led Me All the Way”?  Or would you sigh along with Jacob, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life”? (Gen. 47:9)  I think this is one of the saddest verses in Scripture for a man of faith to utter.  In light of God’s abundant grace it is hard to conceive this attitude, but Jacob said it.
There are no doubts that Jacob had troubles.  He was a cheat and was cheated.  He wanted it all on his terms both when at home with Isaac and Rebekah and in Padan-Aram with his new family. Both times his impatience and greed cost him dearly.  His dissatisfaction led to family turmoil in both his birth home and his new home.  All of that is true, but it is not the whole story.
The whole story is that God had chosen him by grace before he was born to receive the covenant and the promises.  Before his birth Jesus was leading him!  After his great sin toward Isaac, God appeared to him in a dream with many precious promises.  After his deceit toward Laban, God appeared to him again with more assurances.  When confronted by his potentially murderous brother God again appeared to him and renewed the promises and the covenant.  When faced by the hostility of the Canaanites after the rape of Dinah and his son’s retribution for it, God stayed the hand of the heathens by placing a fear of Himself within them.  When he thought he had lost his favorite son, God had really preserved him for the ultimate salvation of the entire family and Jacob got to see him again.  Instead of starving in Canaan God gave him a home with plenty in Egypt.  God’s abundant grace and the leading hand of Jesus were on his life from beginning to end.

Instead of grumping Jacob should have sung Edward Bickersteth’s hymn “Peace, Perfect Peace”.  Bickersteth takes all the complaints of Jacob and gives them a crisp reply from the throne of grace.  The complaints are: “In this dark world of sin, sorrows surging round, future all unknown” and “death shadowing us and ours.”  God’s grace answers: “Jesus whispers peace within, on Jesus bosom naught but calm is found, Jesus knows and He is on the throne, Jesus has vanquished death” and lastly, “Jesus calls us to heaven’s perfect peace.”  There was abundant grace for all of Jacob’s troubles and ours.  Rejoice in the answers of Grace that God supplies and sing with Bickersteth, “Peace, Perfect Peace.”  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Grace in the Changed Life

Genesis 44 relates the exciting story of the transformation of Judah.  Here we find Judah and his brothers in the home of Joseph, who they still don’t know is Joseph, and they are faced with a great trial.  Joseph proposes to keep Benjamin in Egypt as his servant and send the rest of the brothers home.  Judah, who had been so quick to sell Joseph as a slave and to deprive Jacob of his favorite son, reveals the new life that God had given him after he confessed his sins and turned to God in Genesis 38. 
Fanny Crosby wrote the popular hymn “Draw Me Nearer” also known as “I Am Thine, O Lord”.  The second stanza reads: “Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord, by the power of grace divine; let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in Thine.”  Think of those last few words, “And my will be lost in Thine”.  This picture of the consecrated life shines clearly in the action that Judah took in Genesis 44.  He approached Joseph and said, “For your servant became surety for the lad (Benjamin) to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever’.”  Then he offered himself to stay as a permanent slave to Joseph in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom.  The will to live his own life, to have his own freedoms, to care for his own family and to live in his own land were all subjected to the needs of others. 

That is the grace of God that we find in Jesus Christ.  He left heaven with all its glory and came to earth to be despised and rejected, to be in want and suffer with mankind and then to be crucified for our sin.  That is the grace of God that we find reflected in the great saints of old who endured much for the sake of the cross of Christ.  That is to be the grace of God reflected in our lives as we give ourselves to Christ.  The evidence of grace is not to be some ancient glory that we recall but not realize.  It is to be the reality of each believer’s life.  As Fanny Crosby wrote, “Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to the cross where Thou hast died; draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to Thy precious, bleeding side.”  Let our grace walk reflect our nearness to God each day.  

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Grace Instead of Retribution

In 1524 Lazarus Spengler wrote the hymn “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall”.  The 3rd stanza of the hymn expresses clearly the condition of all mankind: “From hearts depraved, to evil prone, flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone; God’s image lost, the darkened soul nor seeks nor finds its heav’nly goal.”  Each part of that verse is directly linked to a biblical description of our human nature.  In Genesis 42 Joseph’s brothers have returned home to Jacob after their first trip to Egypt to buy food.  Things didn’t go very well on their trip.  As they related the events of their first contact with the “ruler of the land”, who they didn’t know was their brother Joseph, they made this comment to their father Jacob, “But we said to him, ‘We are honest men’.”       
If anyone knew that line wasn’t true it would have been the one they told it to – Joseph.  How boldly they lied to the one whom they had sold as a slave.  Honest men might have been their own assessment of themselves, but Joseph knew far better.  Remember that Joseph is a profile of Christ.  While Joseph was not omniscient, he was fully aware in the case of his brothers to what extent of depravity their sins had dipped.  Christ knows it all.
Herein is grace.  Joseph sent them on their way with all the food that they needed.  He didn’t even charge them for it.  He kept one brother in jail in Egypt to guarantee that they would come back for more help that he would give them.  Jesus, who knows all our sins against Him, says to the sinner, “Come unto me.”  As Joseph paid the price for the grain his brothers took home with them, so Jesus paid the price for the wages of our sin.  He died that we might truly have the eternal bread of life.  That is grace abundant indeed.
Now we can look at the 5th stanza of Spengler’s hymn: “As by one man all mankind fell and, born in sin, was doomed to hell, so by one Man, who took our place, we all received the gift of grace.”  Though confounded by the gifts of grace that Joseph had given to them; though unable to comprehend that they were even gifts; Joseph’s brothers would return to him again and falling on their faces receive the fullness of His grace.  We don’t always understand how it is that God is leading us to His wonderful grace, but we all need to fall on our faces with adoration that He is and that He does receive us when we come.  Oh, the abundant and wonderful grace of Christ! 

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Grace of the Sovereign God

Singing is a great way to make the day brighter and the burden lighter.  Matthias Claudius heard just such singing as the farmers gathered their crops in 18th century Germany.  He composed a poem from their harvest song which has since been made into the beautiful hymn “We Plow the Fields”.  All ancient cultures had a god who controlled the affairs of agriculture.  The one true God of heaven often revealed Himself as being God of gods by proving that He alone was the God of seedtime and harvest, of rain and sun and of all the blessings of fruitful labor.  In Genesis 41 God demonstrated to Pharaoh that He was in charge of the affairs of Egypt by sending both harvest and drought.
Multiple proofs of God’s abundant grace came from the harvest of plenty and then the great drought in Egypt.  First, God released Joseph from bondage by giving him the ability to tell Pharaoh what his dream meant.  Second, God was able to raise up a man over Egypt with the wisdom to help the nation survive the seven bad years.  Third, God was able to save His chosen people, the descendants of Jacob, through Joseph’s ascension to power in Egypt.  Fourth, God was able to reveal His glory and salvation to all nations that went to Egypt to find food during the famine.  Fifth, God didn’t just judge false gods, but provided salvation for all who would come to Joseph for their bread of life.
The false Egyptian gods of agriculture could do none of those things.  The Egyptian wise men/priests could not tell Pharaoh his dream.  The Egyptian wise men/priests had to agree with Pharaoh that there were none among them as wise and discerning as Joseph.  The gods of Egypt could not overrule the edict of God that there would be a drought.  Joseph was able to proclaim that God alone was God of the whole earth as people came to Him to buy bread.  God’s people were brought to Egypt just as God had told Abraham and would stay there until God once again demonstrated His power against all false gods and brought them back to the Promised Land.

The first stanza and chorus of Claudius’s hymn praise God for these gifts and proofs of His grace.  “We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.  Refrain:  All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all His love.”     

  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, June 23, 2016

Grace of God's Presence

At a church where I pastored we had a tradition at funerals for members of the church.  After the service and before the casket was removed from the sanctuary we would all stand and sing Jeremiah Rankin’s hymn “God Be with You”.  It was a song of parting, but not a song of good-bye.  I hardly picture Joseph’s brothers standing in the pasture waving to him and singing this song while he was drug off as a slave to Egypt.  But whether they sang it or not, God was with Joseph in Egypt – even when it didn’t seem like it. 
The third verse of “God Be with You” asks for this blessing of His presence, “When life’s perils thick enfold you, put His arms unfailing round you”.  (We did not sing this verse at funerals.  We just sang the first and fourth.)  In Genesis 40 we still find Joseph languishing in the dungeon.  He has been elevated, however, to the position of chief trustee.  Trustee or not, he was still in the dungeon and didn’t want to be there.  But he wasn’t alone.  God was there with him and His unfailing arms were around him. 
Two of Pharaoh’s servants had displeased their master and were thrown in the dungeon with Joseph.  Joseph had the opportunity to interpret a dream for each of them.  As the interpretations proved true he asked the surviving servant to take his petition to Pharaoh upon his release.  The servant didn’t at that time, but later a need arose in Pharaoh’s life and he needed just the help Joseph could give.  Calling Joseph from prison, Pharaoh had Joseph interpret a dream for him and then elevated Joseph to the second highest position in Egypt. Now Joseph was in a position not only to save himself but to save all of Egypt, all the lands around Egypt and all his family. 

The second verse of Rankin’s hymn reads, “’Neath His wings protecting hide you, daily manna still provide you.”  God had sheltered Joseph from death by his brothers’ hands, from death by Potiphar, from death in the dungeon and all while still provided his needs.  The same God who was gracious to Joseph all his days is the same God who cares for His children today.  God’s grace has not changed.  The last petition of the first verse of this hymn is the one I like the best. “With His sheep securely fold you – God be with you ‘til we meet again.”  Beloved, rejoice in the God who is there.  Rejoice in His abundant grace.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Grace Behind the Scenes

Chapter 39 of Genesis again picks up Joseph’s story with a child of God’s promise laboring as a slave in a foreign land.  It is another beautiful picture of our Savior.  While serving well and faithfully he is adored by a fickle audience and then falsely accused by the same.  This time he lands in another pit – Pharaoh’s dungeon.  What an opportunity for despair! 
One of our great English hymn writers, William Cowper, knew a great deal about despair and depression.  He even attempted suicide.  Considering that background we find a particularly hopeful title to one of his hymns, “The Saints Should Never Be Dismayed”.  The first line of this hymn reads, “The saints should never be dismayed, nor sink in hopeless fear; for when they least expect His aid, the Savior will appear.”
Joseph had been rejected by his brothers, sold as a slave (in lieu of being killed), falsely accused of a terrible sin and thrown into a dungeon where condemned prisoners were kept.  All he was doing when he set out on his fateful journey was to go on an errand to do his father’s will.  Are you going about your Father’s will and things don’t seem to be going too well.  Are the hopes and aspirations you anticipated producing dark skies and disappointments instead?  Does that add weight to an already physical predisposition to depression?  Meet Joseph and William Cowper.
Cowper was “rescued” from the depth of his depression by John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) and worked closely with him for a number of years.  What they did together was write and sing hymns.  Though never cured of his depression, which was for him and still is for many today a serious physical condition, he moved past the pit of despair to recognize the grace of God for His children.  He enriched and encouraged the church with wonderful hymns that could uplift them in their own times of despair.  In this hymn he used biblical illustrations that must have brought despair and situational depression to those who encountered very trying times.  But he gave a final note of God’s rich grace and care with the final two lines of his hymn.
“Blest proofs of power and grace divine that meet us in His Word; may every deep felt care of mine be trusted with the Lord.”

“Wait for His seasonable aid, and though it tarry, wait: the promise may be long delayed,
but cannot come too late.”

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

From Glory to Glory

A Scripture song taken from II Corinthians 3:18 goes, “From glory to glory He’s changing me, changing me, changing me; His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world.”  A great joy of being in Christ is seeing our life change from the glory of self to the glory of the image of God.  This is grace at work.  In Genesis 38 we take an interlude from the account of Joseph to deal with his brother Judah.  Judah played a big role in selling Joseph as a slave.  He has a big role yet to come later in Genesis.  The transformation that takes place in Judah has its roots in Genesis 38.
In Genesis 38 we find Judah and his wife having three sons.  He then took a wife for his oldest son, but his oldest son died.  The wife passed to the second son, but he also died.  Judah promised her to his third son, but had no intention of keeping that promise.  Then Judah’s wife died and Judah went and took the services of a harlot.  Seeing that Judah had lied to her about giving her his third son, Judah’s daughter-in-law played the harlot with Judah (though she was in disguise) so that she might get a child.  Judah found out about her harlotry, but not that he was the participant, and ordered her to be killed.  As she was being tied to the stake for burning she produced for Judah the token he had given to the harlot as pre-payment.  Judah was suddenly convicted of his own sinfulness and repented.  He turned his life, step by step, over to God.
Later in Genesis 44 Judah proves up the character of his new life when he offers himself as a slave to stay in Egypt so that his younger brother Benjamin does not have to take on that position.  Joseph sees the wonderful change in his brother’s life and then welcomes his whole family to the physical salvation of Egypt.  From the glory of self to the glory of Christ likeness, Judah had been changed.

It is the grace of God that we don’t always have to be what we ever were.  The beginning of our story does not have to be the end.  The failures and disappointments do not have to be our constant defining condition.  “From glory to glory He’s changing me.”  The grace of God will be at work in His children to change them into the image of His glory.  Praise God for grace that works out our salvation in Christ each day.  Seek to sing with Charles Gabriel, “More like the Master, I would ever be, more of His meekness, more humility; more zeal to labor, more courage to be true, more consecration for work He bids me do.”  

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Grace: The Innocent for the Guilty

Innocent, sold as a slave he was, cast from his home of love because, of vile jealousy.
Innocent, hung on the deadly tree, cursed by God for sin was He, for my iniquity. 
Genesis 37 begins the full account of the life and ministry of Joseph.  When I taught at Bible college my favorite class to teach was Christ in the Old Testament.  We looked at prophecies, pictures and profiles of Christ.  The person whose profile most often matched that of Jesus Christ was Joseph.  There are over 100 comparisons of their life and ministry.  In the stories of Joseph we will find a panoramic vista of grace.
Chapter 37 of Genesis relates the story of Joseph being so hated by his brothers that they cast him into a pit and then sold him as a slave into Egypt.  We might pause to think how we would react toward our brothers if they treated us so wickedly.  Would we ponder revenge on them as we find done in The Count of Monte Cristo?  Would our life be spent in getting even?  That is certainly a human reaction.  It is a reaction that erupts from our sin nature.
Skipping ahead in Genesis to chapter 45 we find Joseph’s brothers standing helpless before him in Egypt where he has risen to be next only to Pharaoh.  They are hungry and fearful.  This is that great opportunity for revenge.  But Joseph didn’t take that path.  He offered them a home and safety.  He offered them a life of plenty instead of a life of want.  Joseph was gracious. 
Skipping further ahead to the Gospels of Jesus Christ we find our Savior hanging on the cruel cross of shame.  Around him are the tormenters and accusers.  They are in need of a new heart and hope in God.  Jesus looks on the crowd and says, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  He was gracious.  He was dying for the sins they were committing against Him and He was gracious. 
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”  Joseph was just a man like we are, yet he possessed the Spirit of Christ as all believers do.  By that Spirit he could be gracious.  So can we. 

Innocent, made by His decree, son of God with Him I be, to show His victory. 

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Eternal Grace

Fanny Crosby wrote thousands of hymn texts.  Thirty or so of those are still commonly sung and familiar.  Many have faded into obscurity.  While they had a good life, now they are “dead”.  One of those is “Eternity” and is aptly named because while it has faded from the common scene of life its eternal value remains.  As it is with songs, so it is with people.  “Eternity” is a good hymn for the scenes of grace found in Genesis 36.  It may seem to be a chapter with little value; it is after all simply a genealogy of Esau, but it has been mightily used by the grace of God.
 What happens in a genealogy is that people are born and they die.  Genealogies cut out all the drama of life and reduce it to the basic facts of human existence; we are born and we die.  I have a friend who is a nationally known Bible teacher.  He was saved after reading Genesis 36.  The stark reality of birth and death, names briefly mentioned and forgotten, struck him to his very heart.  We are mortal in the flesh but eternal in our spirit.  Where will that eternal spirit dwell after the flesh has gone? 
Fanny Crosby captured this stark truth in “Eternity”.  The first verse reads, “Deep and grand in tones sublime, hear the passing bells of time, ring the dirge of moments dead,
golden hours whose joys are fled - still those bells of time we hear, tolling, tolling: Hark! the word: Eternity!”  All those descendants of Esau had some golden hours, they were kings of Edom, but in Scripture they only get a verse to cover their entire existence – then, eternity.  Fanny continues to capture the passing of time in her second verse, “In the rosy morning fair,
In the sultry noonday glare, in the dewy evening bright, in the silent hush of night —
still those bells of time we hear, tolling, tolling, loud and clear: Eternity!”

But eternity where?  Therein is the grace of God.  We can know where our eternity will be if we have trusted that grace of God offered to us in His only begotten Son our Lord, Jesus Christ.  John wrote in his first epistle, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life.”  Eternity with God in heaven is based on what we have done with His Son Jesus Christ.  Life is short, a mere verse, and then eternity.  God’s grace in Jesus Christ offers us eternity with Him.  Crosby concludes her hymn, “Precious word! if safe we stand on the Christian’s borderland trusting Him, whose loving smile lights and cheers us all the while — bells of time with joy we hear, tolling, tolling, sweet and clear: Eternity!”  Rejoice in God’s grace of eternal life and hope 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, June 16, 2016

Grace in Disappointment

Benjamin Schmolk wrote a hymn with a great message “My Jesus, as Thou Wilt!”  The hymn is a rare gem and found in few hymnals.  It was written in German around the year 1700.  If you can’t find it in a hymnal on your shelf at home, look it up on The Cyber Hymnal.  It is a beautiful expression of the phrase in our Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”  When I think of the events surrounding Jacob’s life while dwelling in Padan Aram, the words to this hymn come to mind.
Schmolk wrote, “Into Thy hand of love I would my all resign.  Thro’ sorrow, or thro’ joy, conduct me as Thine own.”  I don’t think these words were sung so much by Jacob as by his wife Leah.  We all start life with hopes and dreams.  For Leah I am sure that they included a happy home with a caring husband.  Instead her own father used her as a means of deceit to get more work out of Jacob.  She was manipulated by her father and unloved by her husband.  Her chief rival was her own sister who was a pagan idolater.  However, in the midst of all this disappointment, we never find the character or faith of Leah to waver.  She steadfastly took care of her home, her family and her responsibilities with confident hope in God.  Genesis 29 through 35 should be labeled as Leah’s story.  In the end she prevails.  Her rival dies; her husband loves her and her son, not Rachel’s, becomes the announced heir and line of Christ.  It took years for this to play out.  Years fly by, but days and hours don’t.  During all those days and hours we can hear Leah singing the words of Schmolk’s great hymn.  Let us gracefully sing with her. 
My Jesus, as Thou wilt! Oh, may Thy will be mine! Into Thy hand of love I would my all resign; through sorrow, or through joy, conduct me as Thine own, and help me still to say, my Lord, Thy will be done!
My Jesus, as Thou wilt! If needy here and poor, give me Thy people’s bread, their portion rich and sure. The manna of Thy Word let my soul feed upon; and if all else should fail, my Lord, Thy will be done.
My Jesus, as Thou wilt! Though seen through many a tear, let not my star of hope grow dim or disappear; since Thou on earth hast wept, and sorrowed oft alone, if I must weep with Thee, my Lord, Thy will be done!

My Jesus, as Thou wilt! All shall be well for me; each changing future scene I gladly trust with Thee: straight to my home above I travel calmly on, and sing, in life or death, my Lord, Thy will be done!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Grace on the Run

Whether it is in the famous Negro Spiritual, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”, a traditional English carol, “As Jacob with Travel Was Weary”, or in the famous English hymn, “Nearer, My God to Thee”, the scene of grace found in Genesis 28 has been made quite popular in Christian music.  There is something about the loneliness, the weariness, the pain that Jacob was in on that night long ago that resonates with everyone’s life.  We all find ourselves in one of those positions often in our lives.
Jacob’s trouble on this famous night was largely of his own making.  Sometimes our troubles come for the same reason.  Our loneliness and weariness with life may be the result of our sin nature by birth that has not yet been resolved at the cross of Christ.  Jesus said to the weary, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  That is the call of salvation.  We are to abandon our self striving for salvation and accept His perfect gift of salvation.  That is grace and can be seen in this scene of grace with Jacob.  In the traditional English carol the chorus resounds with this gift of grace, “Alleluia to Jesus, who died on the tree, and has raised up a ladder of mercy for me, and has raised up a ladder of mercy for me.” 
Sometimes our loneliness and weariness come as a process of life.  The pressures push in on every side.  There seems to be no solace, no light at the end of the tunnel in our time of need.  But there is!  There is a ladder of light with angels ascending and descending.  God has not forgotten or forsaken His children.  There is rest in the comfort of access to heaven.  As Sarah Adams wrote in “Nearer, My God to Thee”, what God sends has been “in mercy given”.  In that dark hour the angels beckon us to look up.  God is there.  Hope, comfort and strength are not so far off as we think. 

Sarah concludes each verse of her hymn with these words, “Nearer, my God to Thee, nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.”  Jesus said, “Come unto me.”  We need to draw nearer to God.  We need to see that in His nearness are our joy, hope, strength and peace.  In His nearness we find and “feel” the reality of His grace.  “Alleluia . . . {He} has raised up a ladder of mercy for me.”  

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Julia Johnston wrote the beautiful hymn “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”.  Those five words echo across the pages of Scripture in response to the sinful deeds of men of faith.  In Hebrews 11 God calls Jacob a man of faith.  In Genesis 27 we see him more as a man of spiritual failure.  How are these opposites resolved?  It is done by our hymn title today.
Before his birth in Genesis 25, God had chosen Jacob over his older brother Esau.  That was an eternal and divine choice.  Jacob only needed to wait upon God to fulfill it.  To him were the promises and the covenant by the will of God.  By faith Rebekah could have waited for God to fulfill that promise.  By faith Jacob could have waited for God to fulfill that promise.  The word of God is sure and will stand.  By faith we are to believe it and trust Him to complete it.
But all too often that is not the way we live.  Jacob and Rebekah lost sight of their faith in God’s promises and sought to accomplish God’s goals by sinful human means.  First Jacob had Esau trade a bowl of soup for his birthright.  There was no love or care for his brother in that selfish act.  Then Rebekah and Jacob conspired to deceive Isaac to give Jacob the blessing.  There is a clear violation of the 9th commandment.  The sinful nature won out over faith.  Could such a thing succeed?
The wages of this sin caused Jacob to be an exile from his family for 20 years.  It cost Rebekah the joy of the fellowship of her favorite son for 20 years.  It cost a breach between the brothers, Jacob and Esau, which lasted for a thousand years. The stain of this compulsive sin was reenacted in the lives of Jacob’s own sons.  There were wages of this sin.  But God’s grace was not subdued.  God appeared to Jacob, guided Jacob, blessed Jacob and quickened Jacob into being a new man with a new name, Israel.  God’s grace was greater than Jacob’s sin.

The same is true throughout time.  The same is true for us today.  As Julia Johnston wrote it is “grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt”.  As she wrote in the second verse, “Sin and despair like the sea waves cold, threaten the soul with infinite loss”.  That was surely true of Jacob and all sinners for all time.  But there is more.  That despair should show us a “grace that is greater, yes grace untold” that “points to the refuge the mighty cross.”  If you have run ahead of God, or away from God, run back to His grace.  Run with simple confession to His marvelous Cross of grace.  Be restored in His grace today.   

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Grace in Fulfilled Promises

Edgar Stites wrote a truly uplifting hymn of promise “Beulah Land”.  His first stanza reads, “I’ve reached the land of corn and wine, and all its riches freely mine; here shines undimmed one blissful day, for all my night has passed away.”  Here Beulah Land refers to heaven, but the concept of the richness of the Promised Land cannot be forgotten.  God had told Moses that He would deliver the Children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt and take them to a land “flowing with milk and honey”.  Nearly 400 years before God gave this promise to Moses, Isaac was reaping the fields of plenty in the face of his enemies the Canaanites. 
This land of Canaan was to be the land of plenty where God would bring His people when the sins of the Canaanites had become “full”.  Until that time the descendants of Abraham were to dwell as sojourners in the land of promise.  While sojourning there we are told in Genesis 26 that Isaac reaped 100 fold of what he had sown in one year.  Sadly, charlatans within the Christian community have taught that every believer today is to reap similar prosperity if they just follow prescribed practices or are “living right” with God.  The truth is close but in an entirely different direction. God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for all Paul needed.  
There is truly a harvest in this life with Christ, but it is not promised as a physical harvest of prosperity.  It is promised as the real blessings of His grace day by day.  We spent 26 days alphabetizing just a small sample of these blessings.  Jesus said that in this world we would have tribulation, but to be of good cheer as He has overcome the world.  Good cheer is a reaped blessing of grace.  The author of Hebrews says to be content with such things as we have for He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Contentment and the assurance of God’s presence and care are great crops to reap of the grace of God. 

And still there is heaven to come.  Paul said that if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied.  But there is more to come.  Edgar Stites proclaims, “O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land, as on thy highest mount I stand, I look away across the sea where mansions are prepared for me, and view the shining glory shore, my heaven, my home forever more.”  We have the fullness of the abundance of God’s grace in this world, and that is wonderful.  But, we also have heaven to come.  That is abundant grace upon abundant grace.  

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Friday, June 10, 2016

The Gracious Gift of Children

Isaac and Rebekah had been married for 20 years and still they had no children.  While some people today assert that children are a burden or an inconvenience, this has never been the attitude of God nor was it the attitude of Isaac and Rebekah.  In Genesis 25 we find Isaac pleading with God that He would open Rebekah’s womb.  In grace God gave them twins. 
William Williams, the great Welsh evangelist, wrote the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”.  This hymn asks for God’s guidance for the “pilgrim in this barren land”.  Isaac was certainly a pilgrim.  The land wasn’t his and he was often reminded of it.  The hymn goes on to say, “I am weak, but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand.”  Isaac could not open Rebehak’s womb.  Isaac could not fulfill the promises that God had made to Abraham and that Abraham had repeated to him.  Isaac could not, but God could. 
It is the grace of God in our lives that He does the things that He can and that we cannot.  Even when we don’t know what we need or how to pray for it, God in His grace does both for us.  Romans 8:26 gives us this promise.  We can’t make the rain fall and we can’t make the sun shine.  God can.  God, in His marvelous grace, is constantly doing every day the things that we can’t do.  He is doing the things that we can’t even think to ask being done.  For Isaac and Rebekah He opened the closed womb so that they would have the blessing of children and that He could accomplish all the purposes of His eternal promises.

Isaac believed that God both could and would work in His home.  William Williams goes on in his hymn to include this verse, “Care and doubting, gloom and sorrow, fear and shame are mine no more.  Faith knows naught of dark tomorrow, for my Savior goes before.”  Isaac walked in faith with God.  He didn’t know the details of God’s plan, but He knew the God of the plan.  That was enough for Him.  For all other matters of his life he rested in the loving grace of God.   With Isaac and William Williams we need to sing the final words of verse 3, “Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.  I will ever give to Thee.”  Let us live our lives as a song of praise to the power and care of His 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, June 9, 2016

The Grace of Love

“Rejoice! He said, for the wife of thy youth; rejoice and be glad with her. Be glad in your heart for the wife of thy youth, for I have given her to you My child, for I have given her to you.” As the last refrain of this song was sung I took my beloved’s hand and said, “I do”.  The minister offered his final comments and benediction; I kissed my bride and “Amazing Grace” (see day one of Abundant Grace) and I walked back down the aisle as husband and wife. 
Nine months earlier I was living with my grandmother who had raised me.  She was failing and we both knew it.  I was facing a giant emptiness in my life.  Then one day in the early fall when I should have been somewhere else (at work) doing something else (working) I took a day off for a picnic with some friends.  That day I met Amazing Grace.  Four months later, a week after we had announced our engagement, my grandmother passed away. 
Now we are transported back to Genesis 23 and 24.  Sarah has died.  For some reason I have always felt that she was a lot closer to Isaac than Abraham had been.  Isaac now had that great void of emptiness that the death of a dear and close loved one can bring.  Abraham now decided that it is time to find a wife for his son.  The dutiful servant is sent to bring the bride back from a distant land to become Isaac’s bride.  God was gracious to the servant in so many ways that it would take days to describe.  He prayed and God answered his prayer immediately with just the right girl.  He praised God and, having obtained permission from her father, took her home with him for Isaac.  Isaac is out alone in the field when they arrived.  He turns and there is his Amazing Grace. 

It is the wonderful grace of God that He cares about all of us, our whole being.  He isn’t just concerned about our eternal soul.  He is concerned about us.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the words to the wedding song “Thou Gracious God, Whose Mercy Lends”.  The first verse reads, “Thou gracious God, whose mercy lends the light of home, the smile of friends.”  God’s grace cares about us.  As the soloist finished the lines of our wedding hymn, which I wrote for my Amazing Grace, “For I have given her to you, My child, for I have given her to you,” I beheld the grace of God, not in intangibles, but in the tangible presence of my bride.  Isaac did the same.  Genesis 24:66 records, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her.  So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” 

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Grace in Humility

One of the most commonly used invitation hymns is “I Surrender All” by Judson Van DeVenter.  Those are easy words to sing but hard words to live.  What does it mean when we sing the chorus, “I surrender all, I surrender all.  All to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all”?  What part of our lives or our own particular character do we plan to hold back as those words stream from our lips?  Abraham seemed truly able to sing the song and we can take some lessons in living grace from him.
God had called Abraham from his home and family.  He had told him to move to a land where he would sojourn for the rest of his life but not own any of it.  He was a great and powerful man.  His servants were able to defeat a confederation of four Mesopotamian kings.  His riches and livestock surpassed that of those around him.  He was the kind of man who could demand things and expect to be heard.  In many churches today he could be the controlling faction all by himself.  But, he had surrendered all to God and we never see him exercising the great power and influence that he possessed. 
One scene stands out today as we look at Genesis 23.  His beloved wife of many decades, Sarah, had died.  He needed a place to bury her.  She died in the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants forever.  Abraham could have taken his powerful forces and demanded a place of honor for the burial site.  He could have said, “It is already mine, after all!”  I have seen it done in many churches and heard of it being done in many more.  But that is not what Abraham did. 
He had truly surrendered his life and will to that of God.  The land was his, but he did not grasp it.  He did not demand his right to the land.  Here a quick look at Philippians 2:5-8 would be beneficial.  He could have taken it by force, but he didn’t do so.  Here a quick look at Matthew 26:53 would be beneficial.  What he did was offered to buy it at a fair price and would not take it for free.  Here a look at the temptation of Christ would be beneficial. 

Abraham knew that his life was in God’s hands.  He knew that he was called to follow God in the difficult and easy parts of life.  He surrendered to the will of God in both areas.  In this he demonstrated the great grace of God for others to see God and have a chance to glorify Him.  That is what it is supposed to mean when we sing, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.” When we really do that we can demonstrate the glorious grace of God to the world. The grace of the life of Christ, the life surrendered to Him, was the life of Abraham’s example. 

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Gracious Substitution

John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace” also wrote many other hymns.  Along with his friend William Cowper they wrote an entire hymnal, “The Olney Hymnal”, so named after Olney, England where it was written.  Another great hymn from John Newton is “He Died for Me”.  In Genesis chapter 22 we find just such a substitutionary death illustrated for us.
Abraham and Sarah now had a boy of their own.  He wasn’t just a little lad anymore.  He was a young man.  Then one day God called upon Abraham with a very strange and scary demand, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love . . . and offer him as a burnt offering.”  Hagar and her son had been sent away.  By God’s divine record keeping Abraham had only one son that counted, Isaac.  He was the son of promise.  He was to be the heir of all the promises that God had given to Abraham.  He was Abraham and Sarah’s pride and joy and hope for their own future.  Now God said to Abraham, “Take this boy and offer him as a sacrifice.”
God had a plan that Abraham did not know about.  That is true for us all.  We can’t see tomorrow.  We have a hard time handling all the demands of today without getting behind with interruptions and side issues.  But God had a plan.  It was a plan of grace. 
Abraham obeyed God and took Isaac to the appointed spot and tied him up and laid him on the altar.  As he was raising the knife to slay his son God intervened.  “No, Abraham, you do not need to kill Isaac.  Look behind you, Abraham.”  There, caught by its horns in a thicket was a ram.  Abraham untied Isaac and then took the ram and put it on the altar in Isaac’s place.  The ram died for Isaac.  The ram is a picture of Jesus Christ dying for us.  The child of promise, who is a picture of Jesus Christ, was figuratively raised from the dead.  The substitute ram, also a picture of Jesus Christ, died in his place. 

Now we can consider the title of John Newton’s great hymn “He Died for Me”.  We were supposed to die for our sins.  Instead God provided a substitute, His own sinless Son, to die for us.  The fifth stanza of his hymn concludes with Jesus saying to the audience at the cross, “This blood is for thy ransom paid.  I die that you may live.”  Then Newton concludes the whole with a chorus that captures the amazing grace of God’s gift to us.  “Oh, can it be, upon a tree the Savior died for me?  My soul is thrilled; my heart is filled, to think He died for me.”  

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Monday, June 6, 2016

God of Pity, God of Grace

Genesis 19, the scene of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, is one of those scenes of grace that many overlook.  They see it just as a scene of judgment, but it was much more.  Abraham had pleaded with God for the righteous to be spared the searing judgment of His wrath.  God was gracious to Abraham and acceded to his petition.  Lot, who the New Testament describes as a righteous man, was saved from the destruction that befell all the unjust in those two prominent cities.  God was gracious to Lot even though he lived among and was clearly tarnished by the sins around him. 
Eliza Morris has written a mostly forgotten hymn that covers both the grace shown to Abraham and the grace shown to Lot.  Her hymn is titled “God of Pity, God of Grace”.  She begins by asking God to hear our prayers as Abraham entreated God for the righteous who yet dwelled in Sodom.  This verse reads, “God of pity, God of grace, when we humbly seek Thy face, bend from Heav’n, Thy dwelling place; hear, forgive, and save.”  Her second verse picks up the theme and in the last two lines says, “Pleading at Thy mercy seat, look from Heav’n and save.”  The God of pity and grace did indeed hear the prayer of Abraham and in His marvelous pity and grace answered his prayer. 
As if seeing the whole scenario of Genesis 18 and 19 before her as she wrote, Eliza now turns to Lot.  In verse 4 of this extraordinarily beautiful hymn she writes, “Should we wander from Thy fold, and our love to Thee grow cold, with a pitying eye behold; Lord, forgive and save.”  Eliza knew that Lot was not alone in making bad choices.  We all do and we all need to fall on our Father’s loving grace to restore our pure fellowship with Him. 

Psalm 103:13 says, “Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him.”  The publican stood in the temple and said, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”  Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith.”  He also wrote, “Grace be unto you and peace.”  Eliza has captured in her hymn all these expressions of hope for the child of God.  Rejoice in His grace, mercy, pity and peace today.  

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Grace in Promises Fulfilled

The book of Proverbs says that “a cheerful heart is like good medicine.”  Years ago I saw an old movie about a man who wanted to be a “serious film maker”.  He wanted to catch the drama of life, the dark underside, that he thought shaped the fabric of society.  Then he got in trouble and ended up in jail.  While there the jail had a movie night for the prisoners.  The movie was a series of cartoons.  Having been in jail he saw the dark underside of life and found it most unfulfilling as a topic.  Then when he saw everyone who was so hard pressed in the jail having a great time of relief and laughter at the cartoon movie night, he discovered that he had been looking in the wrong place for what drove society.  There was enough sorrow.  Laughter, a cheerful heart, was indeed good medicine.
Abraham and Sarah had been married for many years.  He was 99 and she was 89.  They had no children of their own.  That had been a great sorrow to them both.  Then one day Jesus came visiting.  He was one of the three men in Genesis 18.  He came with a great message of joy for them both.  In one year they would have their own son.  Sarah sat in the tent and laughed at the very thought of such an impossibility.  God then told her that she would call her son Isaac, which in Hebrew means “laughter”.  Every time she looked at her son she could think of how great God’s grace was to give her a son even in spite of her doubt.  She could laugh every day.  God gave her a cheerful heart.

Anna Russell wrote a beautiful praise hymn which isn’t sung much anymore titled “Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus”.  She talks about dreary days and long nights such as Abraham and Sarah must have endured.  God’s promise to them had included a child, but a child had not come.  Then one day Jesus stopped by and everything changed.  With Jesus all the promises of God are yea and amen.  Jesus said, “Next year you will have a son.”  And they did.  Anna Russell’s hymn of praise lifts our heart in adoration to the grandness of Jesus with this chorus, “Wonderful, wonderful Jesus! In the heart He implanteth a song; a song of deliverance, of courage, of strength – in the heart He implanteth a song.”  Let the promises of the grace of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord implant a song in your heart 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, June 2, 2016

Gracious Promises

In Genesis 15 we have a marvelous scene of grace where God speaks with Abraham.  Abraham has concerns.  God doesn’t chide his concerns.  God gives Him more promises and clearer promises.  The Mighty God of the universe even makes an everlasting covenant with this man who has worries and openly discusses them with Him.  That is grace.  The upshot was that Abraham “believed in the Lord and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  As Paul would say later in Romans 4, Abraham was saved by faith.  Now Abraham took that faith and with it stood firmly on the promises of God.
R. Kelso Carter wrote the uplifting hymn “Standing on the Promises”.  God’s promise to Abraham was an everlasting covenant.  That covenant pointed to and included our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfillment of God’s promise that the promised Seed would come and bring hope and righteousness to mankind.  Abraham and his true descendants stood firmly on the sure hope of those promises of the sure and certain God.  Christ came into this world and those of the faith of Abraham embraced their long awaited Savior.  They had waited 2000 years for the promise to be fulfilled. 
During those millennia there had been many difficult days.  There had been slavery in Egypt and abuse by neighboring nations.  There had been discipline by their Holy God who was seeking to bring many sons to glory.  There was exile and deprivation.  In it all there were the sure and precious promises of God.  We have waited 2000 years since the Ascension of Christ for His promised return.  There has been persecution, war, famine, terrors by day and by night for His precious bride the Church.  But His promises are still true.  His coming is still certain.  We can, with Abraham, stand on the promises. 

R. Kelso Carter says in his second stanza, “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.  By the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God.”  Abraham didn’t see all the promises that God made to him be fulfilled in his lifetime.  Still he pressed on in faith as should we.  We can sing together with Abraham the chorus of this great hymn, “Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”  By His abundant grace we stand on these promises.  

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Grace in the Shadows

Throughout Genesis 12 to 25 we see many scenes of grace in the life of Abraham.  These are scenes that show triumphant faith at work in bringing about miracles.  There are also other scenes of grace that cast a darker shadow over Abraham. Even in them are reflected the brighter rays of God’s abiding grace toward him.  The first account of Abraham, as given in chapter 12, reveals this darker side of his life. God said to him, “Get out of your country, and from your family and from your father’s house.”  In Abraham’s life there are a lot of scenes of parting. 
Frank Graeff wrote a beautiful hymn of comfort “Does Jesus Care?”  He chronicles many scenes of life that leave us anywhere on the spectrum from upset to devastated.  The question he poses in each instance is “Does Jesus Care?”  Think of the partings suffered by Abraham.  In Genesis 12 he left his father’s family, his home for 75 years.  In chapter 13 he separates from his nephew Lot.  In chapter 16 he is separated from the surrogate mother of his first child for the first time.  In chapter 21 he is separated from her again along with her son, his first child.  In chapter 23 he is separated from his wife Sarah to whom he had been married for over 50 years.  That is a lot of parting. 
Frank Graeff asks this question in verse 4 of his hymn, “Does Jesus care when I’ve said good-bye to the dearest on earth to me; when my sad heart aches ‘til it nearly breaks, is it ought to Him does He see?”  Triumphantly he responds in the chorus, “O yes, He cares! I know He cares! His heart is touched with my grief.  When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.”  Jesus, the source of all comfort left the glory of His eternal home for the dusty roads of ancient Israel.  He suffered the loss of many of His followers who found His words hard to digest.  He was betrayed by an intimate friend and denied by another.  In the Old Testament He is called the “man of sorrows.” 

Does this Jesus know how we feel?  Yes, He does!  Can He comfort us in every pain and sorrow?  Yes, He can!  It is His marvelous grace that carries us through our darkest hour.  It is the sureness of His grace that enables us to face the future with hope and not despair.  In the scenes of our life that do not seem to have any light, there is always the light of His grace.  “O yes, He cares! I know He cares!”  Rejoice in the caring grace of Christ in each hour of need. 

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