1 Corinthians 15:9, Ephesians 3:8, 1 Timothy 1:15

Growing in Christ

I became a Christian at age 32. For 40 years now I’ve tried every year to be a “better” Christian.  I tried to read my Bible faithfully. I memorized verses. I faithfully attended Church and Christian fellowships. I’ve tithed and more! All of which I thought should help me grow and become a better Christian. But I think I missed the mark. Now at 72, I’m changing my ideas about what it means to be a “better” Christian. Now, I’d argue that it involves a deeper appreciation of my sinfulness and a greater understanding of the depths of God’s love and grace He showed to me on the Cross of Calvary.

In about 54 AD, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said in his first letter (15:9), “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle…” He clearly acknowledged that he wasn’t all that great but still focused on his apostleship. Then about a decade later he writes to the Ephesians (3:8), “I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people…” Not only was he the lessor of all the other apostles but after a decade of trying harder, instead of seeing himself as a better person, he sees himself as a lessor believer. Then finally before his death he writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15) and says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” Did you notice the progress or should I say “regress?” The older Paul got, the longer he spent as a Christian, the deeper he appreciated his sinfulness and not his goodness.

That last verse adds an interesting thought. “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.” What does he mean by that? Does he think that Timothy and others should see and acknowledge Paul as the greatest of all sinners? I don’t think so. I believe Paul is telling Timothy what happens as you grow in your faith. Everyone should recognize the depths of their sinfulness and truly increase in their appreciation for God’s grace to sinners! Finally, at 72, I think I have a stronger inkling that I might be the worst of all sinners!

1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 4:10

His Grace is Sufficient

The Greek word “poikilos” is an adjective used twice by Peter in his first letter to the Christians. It is translated as “multifaceted” or “multicolored” and is used, as adjectives are, to describe something. In his first use of the word, 1 Peter 1:6, Peter describes the kinds of sufferings or trials that believers may have to endure. They are “multifaceted.” Some translations just use the word “various” like the ESV. It says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The NIV uses “all kinds of trials” in its translation. The word is descriptive of the kinds of trials that face all believers in every generation. We have many different kinds of trials in life. We have physical trials. Our bodies get sick and we often get hurt. We have emotional struggles in relationships and we hurt and offend each other in this life. We have spiritual battles that we all fight and sometimes lose. We have trials on the job, with our finances, with health, and the list could go on and on. The fact is, as Peter tells us, we have “many different kinds of trials.”

The second time poikilos is used by Peter, it’s in chapter 4 verse ten. It too, is an adjective modifying a noun. But this time instead of modifying the noun “trials” it modifies the noun “grace.” There are many kinds of trials and there are many kinds of graces (if you will!). I hope you grasp the wonderful parallel. For every kind of trial you and I might face in life, God has a particular kind of grace specifically given for that trial. The multifaceted trials of life are counteracted by the multifaceted grace of God.

Paul once prayed deeply for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed from him. As a matter of fact, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 tells us “I prayed to the Lord three times for it to be removed. And God said to me ‘My Grace is sufficient for you.’” When we go through various trials, they sometimes become all we can see in our lives. We are consumed by them. We lay awake at night and worry about them and fret over them. But God instructs Paul to take his focus off his various trials and put them on God’s multifaceted Grace. God’s grace will get us through it all. Peter said it was only for “a little while” and he wants us to understand that for every possible trial, God’s grace is more than sufficient.

John 1:16

Refreshing Grace!

Grace is one of the most important concepts of Christianity. It’s not just the Grace of salvation I’m talking about. It’s the Grace that comes to us in a wide variety of ways every day of our lives. It’s an overflowing fountain of refreshment that never stops flowing. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that “Jesus was full of Grace.” He goes on in Verse 16 to add, “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.” A look at some other translations may help us understand this. They say, “Grace upon grace,” “grace following grace,” or “grace heaped up upon grace.” What John is trying to tell us is that God’s grace just keeps flowing over and over. It’s the picture of waves of refreshing water in a sweltering dessert wilderness that John’s image calls to mind. John is the one who speaks to us of “living water” and Jesus is the one who offers it to those dying of thirst. Grace is the life refreshment in the deepest times of need.

Grace is such a marvelous thing. When Martin Luther was writing about this concept of “grace upon grace” he compared it to a spring of living water. He writes, “This spring is inexhaustible, it is full of grace and truth from God, it never loses anything, no matter how much we draw, but remains an infinite fountain of all grace and truth; the more you draw from it, the more abundantly it gives of the water that springs into eternal life. Just as the Sun is not darkened by the whole world enjoying its light, and could indeed, light up ten worlds; just as 100,000 lights might be lit from one light and not detract from it; just as a learned man is able to make a thousand others learned, and the more he gives, the more he has—so is Christ our Lord, an infinite source of all grace, so that if the whole world would draw enough grace and truth from it to make the world all angels, yet it would not lose a drop; the fountain always runs over, full of grace.”

C.S. Lewis captures the world before sin in his science fiction novel “Perelandra.” In this world there is a golden canopy. Underneath the canopy is an emerald sea. Gold and green make a beautiful combination. But then he adds, floating upon the emerald sea are pink islands! The islands moved upon the sea and a person had to develop his sea legs before he could walk on them. The Island was forested with incredible trees. He called them “Bubble Trees.” The bubbles hung like fruit from the trees and when a person walked under the trees, the bubbles would burst and the passers-by would be dowsed with indescribable refreshment. This pictures God’s Grace – indescribable refreshment!

Isaiah 46:1-4, 64:1-4, Mark 10:45

Something to Believe or Something to Do?

Most pulpits preach the same message over and over whether they realize it or not. That message is an indication of what they believe matters most. I’m convinced that the majority of pulpits preach that what matters most is what we do for God. I’ve always been under the impression that it’s what God did for us that is the most important thing.  Another way of saying this might be to ask if the message I’m hearing or reading is giving me something to do or something to believe that will change my perspective as a whole and work its way out in new ways of thinking and living.

Here are two biblical thoughts for you to consider and hopefully believe. The first is from the Old Testament. God tells His people in so many words, “I carry you, you don’t carry me!” This is important because all the other gods of the day were idols on carts that needed to be carried and served and taken care of. But in the entire history of the world there is only one God who works on behalf of His people, while the people work on behalf of their idols. In Isaiah 64:4 we read, “Since ancient times no one has heard,  no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” And again in Isaiah 46:1-4, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Second, from Mark 10:45, Jesus explains, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The big point here is that what God has done for us is what matters most, not what we do for Him. Focusing on the message of God’s love and salvation given to us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is something we increasingly appreciate as it increasingly works upon our hearts and minds, changing us from the inside.

1 John 4:18-19, Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 10:4

You Have to Get the Ball

I remember an old Nike commercial. The leading re-bounder for the NBA was alone on a court running back and forth from net to net, tossing the ball up against the backboard to practice snatching the rebound. The camera would shift from a full shot of his hard workout, down to his shoes, and then back. At the end, it would zoom in on his face at mid court as he stopped with sweat dripping off him, and looking dead into the camera he would say, “You’ve got to get the ball before you can shoot the ball.”

That’s true with so many things in life, not the least of which is love. The Apostle John explains one of the chief characteristics of God in 1 John 4:18. He writes, “God is love.” Then in 1 John 4:19, he tells us something very important about Love. “We love because God first loved us.” You have to get the ball before you can shoot the ball.

This is extremely important because when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He replied in Matthew 22:36-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The ultimate fulfillment of the law is found in loving God and loving others. But no one can keep the law! In Romans 3:20 Paul explains the purpose for the law. He writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day and many religious leaders today think they “have the ball.” They didn’t and they don’t, and neither do we. Jesus does!

John tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Just before that in John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Only Jesus loved God with all His heart and His neighbor as himself. We do not and we cannot! Repentance is confessing that truth. Comprehension of our failure under the law leads to recognition of our need for another way by which we can be made right with God. God provides that way for us. Paul explains it in Romans 10:4, “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in Him are made right with God.” Believing that Christ made all things right between us and God through His sacrifice on the cross gives us the ball. Do you have it?

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