Friday, July 29, 2016

Grace After the Mountaintop

In our Christian lives most of us have had what we would call a “mountain top” experience.  It was a moment where we felt particularly touched by and close to God.  It might have been at a retreat or camp or special service, but it was some moment where the reality of God broke through to us in a new and different way.  We wanted the moment to linger or continue unabated, but the service ended, the retreat was over and we had to reenter or daily lives.  While we missed the depth of that experience, God had in His wonderful grace shown us a glimpse of Him that would refresh us and sustain us in our walk with Him.  This happened to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Frederick Hosmer wrote a hymn, “Not Always on the Mount”, which catches the great importance of the mountain top experience for our life in the daily valley of living.  His first stanza reads, “Not always on the mount may we rapt in the heav’nly vision be;
the shores of thought and feeling know the Spirit’s tidal ebb and flow.” If it had been God’s intent for Jesus’ three disciples to ever be on the mountain top with Christ, He would have assented to Peter’s request to build tabernacles there for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  However, it is God’s design that having been nurtured by the heavenly we communicate with the earthly.  Always on the mount rapt in heavenly vision is not where God will use us.
Hosmer continues with this thought in verse three.  “Yet hath one such exalted hour
upon the soul redeeming power, and its strength, through after days, we travel our appointed ways.”  Is the purpose of taking a refreshing nap to keep napping?  No.  Nor is it the purpose of such an exalted experience to keep clinging to the exaltation.  Our naps make it possible to carry on with the routines of life that demand our attention.  The needs of those around us are better attended to when we are refreshed with renewed strength.  So it is with that rapturous time with Christ.  It is our strength for days ahead.

In his last stanza Hosmer concludes, “The mount for vision: but below the paths of daily duty go, and nobler life therein shall own the pattern on the mountain shown.” What we are shown on the mount we live in the valley.  When we do this we extend God’s grace in Christ to the world He has placed us in to serve Him.  Our joy, our strength and our duty then is the grace of Christ and in that we remain on the mountain with Him.  

  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, July 28, 2016

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

How great a distance do we try to keep between ourselves and notorious sinners?  I am not asking how far we keep from their sin, which should be very far, but from them as individuals.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had a simple answer – as far as possible.  So one day when an infamous sinner was able to gain access to the home of a key Pharisee, who was hosting Jesus, we see a confrontation of religious bigotry and Christian love.  J. Wilbur Chapman, the well known writer, pastor, evangelist and hymnist wrote a hymn about Jesus’ response on this occasion, “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners”. 
In the modern vernacular we would say that the Pharisee was not amused at the appearance of the woman in his home.  He even smirked at Jesus’ naiveté at letting the sinful woman approach Him.  But Jesus was not naïve; He was the manifestation of God in the flesh, the God whom Christ proclaimed as being the One who loved the world.  Jesus response to the approach of the woman was simple, He let her fall at His feet and worship Him and then He publicly announced the forgiveness of her sins.  Chapman captures the beauty of this moment in the first stanza of his hymn, “Jesus! What a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul; friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Savior, makes me whole.” 

The woman had gone into the Pharisee’s home a despised and defiled person.  She went away that day a forgiven and whole child of God.  She went out of that house a person with hope, strength, healing, joy and new life.  These are different aspects of the great love Chapman expresses throughout his hymn.  He saw Jesus, the Friend of sinners, as the one who was also as the Strength in weakness, the Help in sorrow, the Comforter of the soul, the Guide and Keeper the Pilot in the storm and the great Forgiver of sins.  He said, “More than all in Him I find.”  It is with exultation that he concluded each verse with the rousing chorus, “Hallelujah! What a Savior! Hallelujah! What a Friend! Saving, helping, keeping, loving, He is with me to the end.”   Hallelujah indeed!   The grace of God in Christ is more than all we will ever need now and forever!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Shepherd's Grace

One of the greatest comforting passages of Scripture is found in Mark 6:34. Jesus saw the multitude and felt compassion for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  We see a stranded kitten and we feel compassion.  We see a wandering lost puppy and we feel compassion.  Jesus saw the multitude lost and wayward and without a guide or keeper in life and death.  Seeing them He felt compassion. 
Charlotte Elliot who is most famous as the writer of “Just as I Am” wrote a number of other hymns as well.  One of them is titled “Jesus, My Savior, Look on Me”.  It is taken from this passage in Mark and its parallel passage in Matthew 9.  She imagines in her hymn a variety of the needs that the multitude had that day and the needs that we also face in our lives.  The multitudes of yore are not any different than the multitudes of today.  We share the same needs for a shepherd to care for us, rescue us and guide us.
The first stanza of her hymn reads, “Jesus, my Savior, look on me, for I am weary and oppressed; I come to cast myself on Thee: Thou art my rest.”  The crowds had come to see Jesus.  He saw their needs as being more than just that of physical healing, so the first thing He did was to teach them.  Later in the day He fed them, the whole multitude by a great miracle.  The next day, according to John 6, He challenged them to see what true food and drink was and to believe in Him. Those that did so cast themselves on Him and He became their rest.
In the succeeding verses of her hymn Charlotte points out an ever widening array of our human needs.  At the end of each stanza she lays out another distinct nature of Christ.  She calls Him her strength, her light, her rock, her peace and her life.  She found Him sufficient in weakness, darkness, danger, fear and death.  In her final stanza she sums up her needs and His sufficiency with seeing Him as her all.  That is who He wanted to be to the crowds that day on the hillside.  That is who Charlotte Elliot found Him to be in her life.  That is what He wants us to find Him to be in our lives.  He wants to fill us with His grace and be our all in all.  That is His compassionate heart.

The musical score for this hymn was written by the famous song writer Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan renown.  

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Grace in Fatigue

The cares and work of our daily lives can leave us drained and weary.  Jesus’ disciples came to Him after going on a preaching trip and He could see their need for rest.  It is the grace of Jesus Christ that He knows our needs.  He said to the disciples to come apart and rest a while.  He calls us to the same escape from the labors of life.  Because He cares for us He calls us to take some time alone with Him.
A lovely hymn of unknown origin, “Sitting at the Feet of Jesus”, reminds us of the value of time spent alone with Him.  The first stanza of this hymn reads, “Sitting at the feet of Jesus, Oh, what words I hear Him say! Happy place! So near, so precious! May it find me there each day. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, I would look upon the past; for His love has been so gracious, it has won my heart at last.”  This is what Jesus calls us to, a happy place so near so precious.  What was it like for the disciples to spend time alone with Jesus?  That is the same experience He calls all His present day disciples to enjoy with Him as well.
The second stanza of the hymn adds further details of this blessed time together. “Sitting at the feet of Jesus, where can mortal be more blest? There I lay my sins and sorrows and, when weary, find sweet rest. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, there I love to weep and pray, while I from His fullness gather grace and comfort every day.”  Isn’t that what we really need each day – some real rest?  Isn’t it good to have someone we can talk to that will really listen and care?  Isn’t it refreshing to have someone tell us they really love us each day and sincerely mean it?  Isn’t it strengthening to have someone come along side us and say that they will be there with us all day to take on whatever comes our way? These are the blessings we get in time alone with God each day for Bible reading, prayer, devotional thought and the uplifting strength of song.

These disciples were no different than we.  They were flesh and blood.  They grew tired and faced temptations.  Jesus said to them, “Come apart and rest.”  He extends the same invitation of grace to us each day.  Enjoy these quiet moments with Him and His promise to be with you the rest of the day.  

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Grace for Our Greatest Needs

What is our greatest need?  In Mark 5 a woman met Jesus as He was going on an urgent errand with a man whose daughter was dying.  To the man that was certainly the most urgent need.  To the woman it was not.  The woman had suffered at the hand of doctors for twelve years and had been impoverished by their failed efforts.  She felt her sickness was her greatest need and shyly approached the Savior to have it met.  She didn’t trip Him or block His way.  She merely reached out and touched the hem of His garment.  And what happened?  She was completely healed.  What else happened?  Jesus stopped and talked with her and told her that it was her faith in Him that had made her whole. 
What is our greatest need?  The man in this story still had a daughter who was dying. But while Jesus paused to talk with the woman, a messenger came from the man’s house and told him it was too late; his daughter was dead.  Jesus, seeing the man’s despair, said, “Don’t be afraid.  Only believe.”  Believe is the verb form of the word faith.  What the woman had shown in her healing was what Christ now called on the man to show in his great need.  Jesus then went to the man’s house and raised his daughter from the dead. 
What is our greatest need?  Our greatest need is that the sickness of sin be washed away and that the death sentence of sin be pardoned against us.  After that our greatest need is to trust our Savior who has done both things for us. 
John Beebe wrote a hymn, “Made Whole”, that covers both the physical and spiritual aspects of this account in Mark.  His first stanza reads, “The press was great, the throng was wild, and I, a sinner all defiled, how could I reach my Savior? Reach Him I must, without delay, and in the press, with fear, dismay, I, trembling, sought my Savior.”  He sees first in this hymn that which is our greatest need - a Savior.  Then in His last stanza he concludes with the sense of double healing, spiritual and physical.  “Go thou in peace, O hear Him say; from all Thy plague be healed this day; Oh, what a blessed Savior! To heal the body, save the soul, the vilest of the vile make whole, Oh, how I love my Savior.” 

What is your greatest need today?  There is One who can meet it.  With grace He will take care of His children.  With grace He will receive the lost.  Look to Him today for the grace that you need and then love the Savior.  

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Restoring Grace

One of the many hymnists from whom we could take an entire year of devotions would be Isaac Watts.  He is known as the Father of English Hymnody.  By the time he was in his early twenties he had written an entire hymnal.  One of those hymns, “Sin, Like a Venomous Disease”, relates to the encounter of Jesus with the mad man of the Gadarenes found in Mark 5.  It is an encounter of great grace both on the part of Jesus and also His disciples.
The third stanza of Watts’ hymn gives us a picture into our own nature bound up in the demon possessed man. “Madness by nature reigns within, the passions burn and rage, till God’s own Son, with skill divine, the inward fire assuage.”  As lost people we are always casting about for something to give us peace within.  The number of seminars given for that purpose and the amount of money spent on them reflects the great desire of mankind for inner peace.  That was the problem of the mad man of the Gadarenes.  All the self help books, societal gimmicks and legal restraints placed upon him had done nothing to alter the inner turmoil he had.  He had demons within and only Jesus could cast them out.
In Watts’ sixth stanza (yes, they used to sing hymns with many more stanzas than that) he describes both the problem and the cure.  “The man possessed among the tombs
cuts his own flesh, and cries; he foams and raves, till Jesus comes, and the foul spirit flies.” Then what happened?  He sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him preach.  There is a great lesson for us all.   When we are in our right mind we will sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him.

But the grace in this story was not just demonstrated by Jesus with His healing of this needy man.  Grace was also demonstrated by His disciples.  The man must certainly have terrified them when they first encountered him.  He was violent, scarred, naked and raving.  But we find him sitting with THEM after he was cured.  They graciously accepted him into their circle.  There was no shunning him for his past.  How much we need that grace in our churches today.  We don’t have to elevate them to leadership right away, but we must welcome them as a child of God to share His witness and the blessings of His sacraments.  That was a grace they had learned and we need to apply it, too.  

  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, July 21, 2016

Founded on the Rock Grace

After Jesus finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount the people were amazed.  They said to each other, “He speaks as one with authority and not as one of the scribes.”  The words of Jesus were the very voice of God.  He was the Word of God incarnate.  The words that He had spoken were words of guidance, hope and peace.  He had authoritatively declared the meaning of the law and its application to life.  He didn’t mince words and He boldly asserted that to ignore His words was to ignore the hope and grace of God.
One of Haldor Lillenas’s great hymns is “The Bible Stands”.  Jesus compared obedience to His words as having a house built on a rock.  That house would stand.  Today there are too many people discounting the authority of God’s word and trying to substitute some weakened down socially acceptable version of their own.  The grace of God in Christ comes through the words that Jesus spoke and the authority with which he upheld the words already given by the Old Testament.  God’s grace, purpose and peace shine clearly in all the words of our Holy Bible and are not found in the reasoning of men however esteemed. 
The first stanza of Lillenas’s hymn reads, “The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
’mid the raging storms of time; its pages burn with the truth eternal, and they glow with a light sublime.”  We hear people howl today about the Bible being obsolete or out of date or not in tune with modern thinking.  Only on the last point are they correct.  It is not in tune with our thinking, ancient or modern.  It is the very thoughts and ideas of God that are eternal and surpass our thoughts and ideas by such a degree as to be disparaged by men.  But, they have stood and will stand and all men will be judged by them.  Therefore, in His great grace God has given them to us so that we know what He wants and what He will do.  When Jesus spoke He spoke with this authority. 

The third stanza of this hymn reads, “The Bible stands and it will forever, when the world has passed away; by inspiration it has been given, all its precepts I will obey.” Rejoice in the grace of God that He has spoken.  Rejoice that He has given us in His word the means of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  His authority is without end.  His grace is eternal for all who come to Him.  

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Grace on a Birthday

From day of birth my life thou’st led; Thy faithfulness ever my guest; with loving grace Thou cov’r’st my head; Thy plan for me Thy gracious best.
Today is my birthday. (The day I write this, not the day you read it.)  It is a day to reflect on the great grace of God in Christ.  For many years my flesh, in body and mind, has been plagued by various ills from petty to profound.  For those same years my income has ranged from little to a little more than that.  But these are not the issues that life is made of or to be about.  Jesus said that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess.  Our wealth is His grace.  Our thorns in the flesh are the opportunities for His grace to be manifest through us.  Today I reflect on the wonderful riches of the grace of God to me.  These are riches that cannot be taken away or lost in earthly calamity. 
First there is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  42 years ago I was at enmity with God and He with me.  I was a child of wrath in mind, body and spirit.  My destiny was sorrow in this life and greater sorrow for eternity.  Then, in a grand revelation of His grace, I was no longer an alien to the life and hope and peace of God.  He saved me and forgave my sins and made me His child.  He did this because of His grace in Christ who died for my sins and rose again for my justification.

Secondly He set me on a path of wonderful adventure with Him.  Though I never planned to go to college He has taken me to graduate from four to prepare for His service.  It brought me to meet my dear wife whose only goal in life was to serve her Savior.  What a perfect companion He gave me.  It has taken us across America to serve in pastoral ministry, music ministry, education ministry and missionary ministry.  We have learned languages we didn’t know existed and led people to the Savior from many places we had never even imagined visiting.  This path has given us six wonderful children who are all active in their own churches with two of them in full time ministry.  This path has seen our bank account never run dry even when my income was insufficient to pay just the rent and we had no other income.  God has been ever faithful.  He has been ever gracious.  He has been ever the wonderful Savior who wooed me from sin to salvation in His dear Son.  This day is really a celebration of His goodness and love.  

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Humble Grace

Matthew chapters 5-7 record for us what is called the Sermon on the Mount.  It begins with the lovely blessings of Christ called the Beatitudes.  Isaac Watts took these beautiful promises of Jesus and set them to music in his hymn “Blest Are the Humble Souls That See”.  In this eight stanza hymn, one stanza per Beatitude, he makes a poetic melody of the rich blessings of Christ.
He keeps the focus clearly on the spiritual nature of these phrases which is right where Christ had placed it.  Christ did not bless the poor in this passage but rather the poor in spirit.  This is the humble who understand their need for God’s love and grace.  The self sufficient man can be poor or rich so this is not a denouncement of the wealthy.  It is a call for us to see and acknowledge our need of God.  Of the poor in spirit Watts wrote, “Blest are the humble souls that see their emptiness and poverty; treasures of grace to them are giv’n, and crowns of joy laid up in Heav’n.” 
Again Jesus did not bless those who appear pure hearted by earthly standards.  There are none who are pure hearted by God’s standards.  All have sinned and come short of His glory.  Jesus blessed those whose hearts were made pure by God’s cleansing.  Watts said of them, “Blest are the pure, whose hearts are clean from the defiling powers of sin;
with endless pleasure they shall see a God of spotless purity.”

Lastly we see that Jesus did not bless those who suffer for what may be deemed a righteous cause.  He did not condone or promote every cause of human imagination as a just one or that suffering for the causes of human design would bring eternal reward.  Jesus clearly stated that the suffering would be for His name sake.  It is His name that saves sinners and His name that is glorified in heaven.  Watts said, “Blest are the suff’rers who partake of pain and shame for Jesus’ sake; their souls shall triumph in the Lord,
glory and joy are their reward.”  The Beatitudes are wonderful promises of Christ and His grace for those who find their spiritual comfort and hope in Him.  Let us rejoice in the great promises of His grace as given to His children in the Beatitudes.  Sing these beautiful lines of Isaac Watts to a tune of another of his famous hymns, “Jesus Shall Reign”.  

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Proclaiming Grace

In Mark 3 Jesus called and sent the 12 apostles to go and proclaim His Name and do His work.  In an ancient hymn of the church, a hymn now 1000 years old, we see this call on them and on us.  “Let All on Earth Their Voices Raise” emphasizes in the first stanza that their call to serve was a call made by grace and accompanied with grace.  Here is the first stanza, “Let all on earth their voices raise, re-echoing heav’n’s triumphant praise
to Him who gave th’ apostles grace to run on earth their glorious race.”
We first remember that we were unfit to be used by God until He intervened by grace in our lives through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Being cleansed and forgiven of our sins through faith in Him we now are called to service for Him.  When we see the calling of the apostles, it is not just a passage in Scripture that reflects God’s actions at another time and place; it is the same God doing the same calling of us to the same service today.  By His grace we are saved, and by His grace we are sent. 
This ancient hymn continues with the nature of the ministry with which Christ charged them.  First they were to proclaim the gospel.  Every person on earth needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is not a complicated message.  It is the simple story of how God called us to His Son and how faith in Him has made us new people.  Everyone has their own story of faith to tell how God worked and wooed and made Christ real to them.  Tell your story and you will have shared the gospel.
Second they were called to care.  We get so busy that we often forget to care.  There are people all around us who are hurting, sick with disease of body and soul.  They hurt in their hearts as much as in their flesh.  Stopping to give an embrace of love, even if that embrace takes an hour, is not interrupting our lives, it is living our lives for Jesus.  It is being His disciple.  Caring for those outside the church and encouraging those inside the church is our call of grace to serve Him. 

When all this is done we will find the final call of grace, the grace to rest forever in Him.  The last stanza of this hymn presents this great hope, “And when the thrones are set on high and judgment’s awful hour draws nigh, then, Lord, with them pronounce us blest,
And take us to Thine endless rest.”  Let us labor and rest in His abundant grace.  

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Grace to the Least Renowned

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus began calling His disciples in chapter 1.  He called fishermen.  He didn’t call scholars or noblemen; He called fishermen.  In chapter 2 He again called a disciple.  This time it was a tax collector.  This man was on the bottom rung of Jewish society.  Jesus had not called a synagogue ruler as a disciple or a Sanhedrin ruler as a disciple; He had called a tax collector as a disciple.
Philip Bliss was a prolific hymn writer.  One of his many still well known hymns is “Whosoever Will”.  The calling of Jesus’ disciples reflects the truth of this song.  The first stanza of the song shouts out the joy to the common man that whosoever will may come. “Whosoever heareth, shout, shout the sound! Spread the blessed tidings all the world around; tell the joyful news wherever man is found, ‘Whosoever will may come’.” 
The grace of God in Christ is not exclusive.  Jesus called all people to Himself.  Some came and some did not.  He called a rich young ruler, but he loved his money too much and God too little and declined the invitation.  He stood before the Pharisees, a leading religious group of His day, and offered them the Kingdom.  They preferred their rules and laws and declined His invitation.  He stood before the Sanhedrin, the key religious rulers of Israel and declared that He was the Son of God and they condemned Him to death. They did not come when called.  He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world and that He had come from God.  Pilate had Him crucified.  He did not accept the call.

Just because they didn’t accept the call doesn’t mean they weren’t invited.  God’s grace is as vast as His creation and as great as His love.  Therefore He can embrace and receive all who will come.  God’s grace sent His own Son to die for our sins.  With that death and resurrection of Christ comes the wonderful invitation.  “Whosoever will, whosoever will, send the proclamation over vale and hill; ‘tis a loving Father calls the wanderer home: Whosoever will may come.”  Rejoice in such great grace that gives such a wonderful invitation and make sure you have responded to His RSVP of grace with the affirmation of faith. 

                                              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, July 14, 2016

Compassionate Grace

Turning once again to Mark 1 we find Christ at Peter’s house in the evening hours of the day.  He had healed the demon possessed man at the synagogue earlier in the day.  Then he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Then the crowds began to appear and he was busy healing them.  It had been a long day.  He had preached, gathered disciples, healed and healed some more.  Now in the evening of the day He was still at it.  There were no complaints on His part, only more ministering.
Henry Twells wrote a classic hymn about the care and gentle ministering of Jesus.  In “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set” Twells outlined the care of Christ to the hurting and the great joy they had in receiving the grace of His ministry.  Then Twells presents the truth that we are not done with being needy today.  For five stanzas he lists the many ills of mankind expanding on the ideas presented in his third verse, “O Savior Christ, our woes dispel; for some are sick, and some are sad; and some have never loved Thee well, and some have lost the love they had.”  From physical illness and emotional illnesses and spiritual illnesses Twells called upon Christ to cleanse and heal. 
Christ, of course, can do it all.  He did it all outside Peter’s door.  He did it all in the highways and byways of ancient Galilee and Judea.  But He also sent out 70 others to do it as well.  He is still sending today.  He is sending His people, His church to demonstrate His grace to a world that is still sick and hurting.  As the 70 who went out returned to Jesus He told them that He had watched Satan fall as they ministered.  When He sends us, we do not go out alone.  He goes with us.  He heals through us.  His grace extends out from our lips and hands and lives to those who are sick with illness of body, mind and spirit. 

Twells reminds us in his last stanza that Christ still can do what He always did.  “Thy touch has still its ancient power. No word from Thee can fruitless fall; hear, in this solemn evening hour, and in Thy mercy heal us all.”  We go today in the same power of the same Christ.  We go to extend His grace of caring that we might extend the grace of His saving.  It is evening and the day of His appearing draws near.  Let us extend His grace while it is still today.  

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Grace in Humility

Imagine a movie star or a major league athlete who didn’t want or have a publicist to spread their fame.  Imagine them telling those who notice their greatness to be quiet about it.  Imagine them going to a place where they could play in the smallest market and even then shunning the spotlight.  Now you are imagining Jesus.
O glorious King without a crown, who spurned the fame, despised renown,
Majestic glory veiled in Thee, O Manhood of divinity,
Humility didst clothe the rays of angel choirs proclaiming praise,
As with the softest touch of love, You raised humanity to God. 
In Mark 1 we find the great Son of God from heaven healing a demon possessed man in the synagogue.  When the demon wanted to declare before all who it was that defeated him, Jesus silenced him.  Later in Mark 1 when Jesus met the leper on the road and healed him, He gave the healed man stern warning not to make Him known.  Indeed it was a pattern of Jesus not to send out press releases.
Quiet humility is a rare commodity today.  It is a product of grace.  It says, “Let God shine and I will be but a candle holding up His light.”  The grace of Jesus Christ was not seeking admiration.  It was not seeking a greater place at the world’s table.  It was saying that, “I know who I am and I know whose I am” and that was all that needed to be said.  There was no grandstanding.  There was quiet ministering.  There was no showboating.  There was service.  There was no earthly crown.  There was an earthly cross.  Grace was in each aspect of His humility.  Grace needs to work its way into each aspect of our lives.  We need to make His praise glorious and not our own. 
O glorious King who wears a crown, who in bright heaven is renown,
Guide me, my Lord, to live aright, always to share Your glorious light,
To magnify Your Name divine and not to make so much of mine,

To work with You in touch of love, to raise humanity above.  

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Gracious Invitation

The 17th Century hymnist, Johann Rist, gave the church a number of beautiful hymns depicting Christ.  One of those is “Arise, The Kingdom Is at Hand”.  This hymn is taken from Jesus’ first sermon as recorded in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  With this simple message Jesus introduced Himself, His ministry, His purpose and His hope.  It was a gracious invitation declared to all who heard Him.
In the first stanza of his hymn Rist announces, “Arise, the kingdom is at hand
the King is drawing nigh; arise with joy, thou faithful band, to meet the Lord most high!
Look up, ye souls, weighed down with care, the Sovereign is not far; look up, faint hearts, from your despair, behold the Morning Star!”  The whole world lay in darkness.  Hope was hard to come by in the early 1st century.  The Jewish religion had become form without substance.  Roman paganism offered nothing to cheer about.  Greek philosophy contradicted itself at every turn.  The poor grew poorer while the rich abused them in every way they could.  Religion, knowledge, economics and politics all offered no hope. 
Then Jesus came.  The Kingdom of God, the bright hope of mankind had arrived.  He offered it to all who would repent and believe.  There would be no more night, no pain, no fear, no despair and no more cares.  He didn’t exclude any from His invitation.  By grace He offered it to rich and poor, Jew and Greek, educated and illiterate, men and women and all, each and every one who would hear, repent and believe.  In a society with strict lines of separation along religious, economic, social, cultural, national and philosophical positions, Jesus’ offer of grace to ALL was the ultimate offering of hope.

Rist’s 4th stanza reads, “Hope, O ye broken hearts, at last! The King comes on in might, He loved us in the ages past when we sat wrapped in night; now are our sorrows o’er, and fear and wrath to joy give place, since God hath made us in His grace
His children evermore.”  Notice the grace with which Christ came.  It is the same grace He offers to us today in every need of our life.  Rejoice, the King of grace is come. (This hymn may be sung to the tune “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”.) 

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Marriage: A Scene of God's Grace

Weddings are grand and wonderful occasions.  We celebrate together the beginning of something new and beautiful in the sight of God.  One man and one woman united in an earthly picture of Christ the great Groom and the church His pure bride.  In all weddings where the bride and groom are God’s children by faith in Christ, we can see Christ sitting in the seat of honor as an invited guest.  In John 2 Jesus was an invited guest at the wedding in Cana.  It was the beginning of the working of miracles in His ministry.
Adelaide Thrupp and Godfrey Thring combined their talents in the mid 19th century to give us a lovely wedding song, “Lord, Who at Cana’s Wedding Feast”.  This song reminds us of our bonds as husbands and wives, not just partners but a couple, with God given roles in a God created institution.  It reminds us also of the presence of Christ in each wedding of His children.  The hymn clearly calls on each partner in a Christian home to be zealous to stir up ever greater faith in the one with whom God has sealed them in the marriage covenant.  Lastly it speaks of the hope that we have in our true marriage with Jesus Christ and the eternal home we have with Him. 
God’s grace in Christ is richly evident in this hymn.  We, the sinners of the world (meaning all mankind) were alienated by our sins from the hope of God.  God, in Christ, took our sins rightful punishment and made us acceptable to Him.  He just didn’t “make us acceptable”; He took us as His very own bride.  Now we are wedded to Him; that is an eternal covenant and there will be no separations.  In this beautiful marriage Christ labors in us to produce His grace to a lost world.  We are joined with Him in the purpose and work of life.  That is what marriage is – being joined in purpose and work with Christ always in view.  He calls us to both this earthly and heavenly joy by His wonderful grace.

Let us enjoy together a verse from Thrupp’s wedding song. “Lord, who at Cana’s wedding feast didst as a Guest appear, Thou dearer far than earthly guest
vouchsafe Thy presence here. For holy Thou indeed dost prove the marriage vow to be,
proclaiming it a type of love between the Church and Thee.”  

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Gracious Help in Times of Temptation

Horatio Palmer wrote one of the most well known hymns on the topic of temptation. “Yield Not to Temptation” has now been sung by churches for over 150 years.  The message is still as vital today as when it was first composed.  The world, the flesh and the devil surround us and increasingly intrude in our lives.  Still, we have a Savior who was tempted in all ways such as we and was yet without sin. 
Matthew and Luke record the wilderness temptation of Jesus.  Following His baptism and filling with the Holy Spirit, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  There He fasted and prayed for 40 days and was then tempted by devil in the areas of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life.  For our sake He endured the sore trial of fasting and for our salvation He remained steadfast in temptation.
Palmer charges us to follow in this same frame of life.  “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin; each victory will help you some other to win; fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue, look ever to Jesus, He’ll carry you through.”  In subsequent verses Palmer warns the believer to avoid those places and situations that lead to temptation.  He also constantly points the believer to the help he will only find in Jesus Christ.  “Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.” 

The night in which He was betrayed Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation.  That advice has not changed in two thousand years.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” That prayer has not changed for His people for two thousand years either.  We look to Him who has overcome.  We flee from the temptations that are clearly seen.  We have a victor, a great Champion in Jesus Christ who has overcome and will help us to overcome.  God’s grace is poured out to us in times of temptation to resist if we will.  His throne of grace is open to us in time of temptation and need.  It is a throne of grace we need to avail ourselves of more and more that we might reveal the grace of our Savior to world more clearly each day.  

  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, July 7, 2016

Demonstrated Grace

Great Christ of God in human form wast with humanity adorned, nor scorned the base estate of man to all fulfill the Father’s plan.
These simple lines express the grace revealed in Jesus Christ.  Paul stated in the early church hymn found in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be found equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men.”  The humility of Christ is one of the great expressions of His grace.
In Luke 2 we find Jesus in the temple with the learned men of the Jews.  There in their very midst was the Word of God incarnate.  He was everything that they had learned in memorizing the Old Testament.  In that childhood flesh in front of them was the fullness of the godhead in bodily form.  I have taught school for many years and I know how pompous a child can be if they think they are “somebody”.  Arrogance is part of the disease of our sinful nature.  But Jesus, the Word of God, was not arrogant.  His parents found Him in the temple listening to these men, some of whom would one day demand His crucifixion, and asking them questions.  That is graciousness. 
How did He manage to do this?  Well, of course He was God, but that doesn’t leave us off the hook for emulating him.  In Luke 2:40 we are told he grew strong in spirit and that the grace of God was upon Him.  When we trust Christ as our Savior then the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us.  We now have the nature of God in our fleshly bodies.  The grace of God has been poured upon us to have faith in Christ in the first place.  We have the ingredients for a life of Christ likeness.  The Scriptures now call upon us to walk a life of graciousness as we see in Christ.  It is the walk of grace.

Now men of God reflect your Lord, the Christ of God by us adored, show forth in life and word and love, the blessed grace of Christ above.  

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Grace Upon Grace

If the word grace was obscured by other translations of the word in Luke, John 1 will make up for it.  In John 1:14-17 we find Christ described as grace 4 times.  He is given the great acclamation of not just being grace, but of pouring out grace for grace.  Abundant grace is proclaimed in these verses and Christ is its character and its source.
Samuel Knox wrote a beautiful hymn, “Lord, Thou Hast Promised Grace for Grace” based upon the text in John 1.  His first stanza reads, “Lord, Thou hast promised grace for grace to all who daily seek Thy face; to them who have, Thou givest more out of Thy vast, exhaustless store.”  There is great and wonderful promise in these words.  John 1:11 had declared that when he came to this earth His own did not receive Him.  Then in verse 12 it declares that those who did receive Him would be called the children of God.  They had believed in Him and embraced His grace.  To these He promised more grace.  To these He is indeed “grace for grace”. 
I am losing my hearing as a simple fact of aging.  When I listen to the TV or stereo the sound level comfortable for my children is not effective for me.  I need volume with volume.  To satisfy this need my son hooked up a speaker system that goes directly to my chair.  I can hear clearly because I have sound and sound.  We all have needs in our lives.  Those needs are daily met with the grace for grace of Christ.  He has met our greatest need, reconciliation with the Father, by dying on the cross in our stead.  Now He adds grace to grace by supplying each need as it arises.  He is the truth of God to show me the way to God (Vs 14 and 17) and the grace of God to make me acceptable with the Father (Vs 14-17) and He is also the grace of God to care for me every day.  He is my amplified grace for all needs as my son graciously amplified the stereo sound so I can hear what is going on.

Now, being filled with such grace, we need to show that we have it.  I have to be able to say that I know what is playing on the stereo.  We have to be able to say what God is doing in the world.  He gives us grace for that as well as Knox states in verse 4, “Help us, O Lord, that we may grow in grace as Thou dost grace bestow; and still Thy richer gifts repeat
till grace in glory is complete.”  Rejoice in the richness of His grace and declare the same. 

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grace Brings Joy to the World

Isaac Watts’ great hymn “Joy to the World” certainly reflects the impact of grace through Christ at the time of His nativity.  The English word “joy” is a derivative of the word grace.  It is simple.  Joy comes from Grace.  In the accounts of Christ’s nativity we find this idea used repeatedly. 
First we have the great angelic message, “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great JOY.”  Yes, the grace of God in sending His Son was to bring joy to the whole earth.  The long awaited Savior had arrived.  Man could have hope.  Death would be defeated.  Sin would be forgiven.  There would be real joy and the angels announced it. 
A few months or so after the shepherds had gone to view the Holy Infant in the manger; other noble guests came to worship Him.  Wise men from the East had seen a star that heralded the birth of a king.  Going first to Jerusalem, where they would logically find a king born in a palace of the capital city, they were redirected to Bethlehem.  Once again the star shone on their way and they came to the house where Jesus lay.  How did they react to the certainty that they had found the King?  They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  That’s right, grace was at work again.  They were filled with the magnitude of grace (rejoiced – the Greek verb form of grace) and then gave voice to the grace revealed with exclamations of joy (a Greek derivative form of grace).

The angels proclaimed joy.  The wise men manifested joy.  The wonderful grace of God in Christ was bursting the attentive and believing with raptures of joy.  And so it should still be today.  The grace of God given to us through His beloved Son Jesus Christ should fill us daily with joy.  We have a faithful Savior who will never leave us.  We have a faithful Savior who has removed all the condemnation of God against our sin.  We have a faithful Savior who is interceding for us.  We have a faithful Savior who is coming again for us.  We have the Almighty God of all creation who loves us, cares for us and carries as lambs in His bosom.  Sing it! “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.  Let earth receive her King.  Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.”  Sing it loudly and often, the grace of God in Christ is come!

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Monday, July 4, 2016

All Hail! Rejoicing Grace

One of the most well known and well loved Christmas songs is “Ave Maria”.  Whether using the original Latin version or the English one so often adapted from a poem by Sir Walter Scott, the haunting melody and words of worship stir the heart.  If we think we are stirred, imagine being Mary.  In a quiet hour alone, either in worship or in work, the Bible does not say, she is suddenly confronted with an angel declaring, “Hail, Mary” or “Ave, Maria”. 
What we find in this salutation is the richness of grace.  In Greek the word for “hail” is a derivative of the word grace.  It is in fact the word grace in verb form.  When it is translated into English it is almost, but not always, used as the word “rejoice”.  So, the angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, Mary” or “Be graced, Mary”.  Joy and rejoicing are a great part of grace, so both ideas run in conjunction. 
The angel went on to say to Mary, “You are highly favored”.  The word favored in the Greek is the exact word translated as grace over 110 times.  The intensity of the angel’s announcement is building.  “Be graced, Mary. You are full of grace by God.”  Mary was troubled by this saying so the angel continued, “Fear not, for you have been graced (found favor) by God.”  That word favor here is the word grace.  The beginning of the earthly life of Christ, being conceived by the Holy Ghost into the womb of Mary, was a ministry of grace by the Almighty God.  Mary then went about her life daily showing Christ more and more in her.  That is a literal truth any woman ever pregnant can clearly attest to. 

Grace brought to her by God, bestowed upon her by God and placed within her by God had to become evident.  The grace of God changed an obscure Jewish maiden into the most adored woman in Christian history.  That is how we see it now, but it wasn’t how it was then.  She was ridiculed, nearly abandoned and often confused.  But she stored up all that God had revealed to her and followed on.  That is how grace should work in us.  When God brings us by grace to His blessed Son, then we are to daily reveal Him more to the world around us.  They may not all like what they see, but that need not deter us from making His praise glorious.  Let us rejoice with Mary in our call to grace and manifest our growth in the grace of our Savior more each day. 

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

God's Grace Has Not Changed

When Jesus hung on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  In Genesis 50 we find a similar scene of grace as Joseph’s brothers came to him after the death of Jacob.  They were afraid that he was still holding a grudge against them for what they had done to him.  With fear they fell on their faces before him and asked him to forgive them.  In the words of the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “And forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)”.  Is the scene of grace acted out in Genesis 50 acted out in our lives?
Cecil Alexander wrote the beautiful hymn “Forgive Them, O My Father”.  While capturing the words of Christ from the cross, she also clearly conveys the words of Joseph to his brothers.  The first stanza of her hymn reads: “Forgive them, O my Father,
they know not what they do. The Savior spoke in anguish, as sharp iron nails went through.
No word of anger spoke He to them that shed His blood, but prayer and tenderest pity
large as the love of God.”  Joseph told his brothers that what they had done had been done for their salvation in the divine plan of God.  Jesus suffered for our salvation in the divine plan of God. 
The plan of God for salvation is still working in the world.  When early Christians suffered for their faith, they praised God as they were slain.  The forgiveness they showed their tormentors greatly impacted many for salvation.  Today people are still waiting to see if the forgiveness of God is real.  If it is real, it must be real in us.  We are the little “Christs” in the world today.  We must see that God’s plan of salvation for the world includes us as living demonstrations of His grace.  Joseph forgave his brothers.  Christ forgave his tormentors.  We are to forgive our debtors.  We are to do it because it is the plan of Christ to reach the world of sinners through the ministry of His bride, the Church. 

Cecil’s last stanza reminds us that we are still relying every day on the constant forgiveness of Christ and that we must minister the same grace to others.  “And often I have slighted Thy gentle voice that said: forgive me too, Lord Jesus, I knew not what I did.
O depth of sweet compassion! O love divine and true! Save Thou the souls that slight Thee
And know not what they do.”  Let us act with Christ in this ministry of grace.  

  The Saturday 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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Friday, July 1, 2016

The Story of Levi: By Grace Are Ye Saved

Daniel Whittle penned many hymns.  One of those which have become more obscure today is “By Grace Are Ye Saved”.  The first stanza of the hymn reads, “In grace the holy God did full salvation plan, electing in His sovereign grace to save rebellious man.”  When we look at the prophecy that Jacob makes for his sons in Genesis 49 we can see the grace of God poured out on two particularly rebellious men.
Simeon and Levi, the second and third sons of Leah, had taken vengeance on the city of Shechem for the sin of the prince of the city.  He had raped their little sister.  These two brothers had then killed every man in the city in retribution.  In modern parlance we might say that their father Jacob was “not amused”.  In his prophecy regarding these two sons he seems to make an end of them as an enduring part of the tribes of Israel.  What he saw dimly in speaking the prophecy, however, God saw fully in the grandeur of His grace to an end that Jacob could not see.  The prophecy came from God and God had grace in his plan. 
By the words of Jacob the brothers were to be dispersed in Israel and have no land of their own.  This indeed did come true.  But it did not mean their insignificance or destruction.  Levi went on to become the tribe of the Aaronic priesthood.  God made a covenantal statement regarding this priesthood that it would perpetuate until the end of time. We see this priesthood still at work in the restored Israel of the millennial age found in Ezekiel 40-48.  God’s grace did not eliminate but saved this rebellious son.

The tribe of Simeon was also dispersed.  It is where they were dispersed that shines the grace of God.  Simeon was given an inheritance within the tribe of Judah.  While they did in many ways lose their own identity, the identity of where they were was the blessed capital of Israel.  Judah was the crowning tribe.  It was the home of the temple where the Levites served.  The tribe of Simeon survived foreign attacks until the tribe of Judah itself succumbed to the weight of their own sin.  Therefore, the people of Simeon were among the first to be restored to the land after the captivity of Babylon.  God preserved these two brothers by His grace alone.  What seemingly was their end, the prophecy of Jacob, was to be in truth their salvation.  God in his grace planned it all and saved the sinner.  Praise God that He is still in the same planning and saving grace “business” today.