Genesis 10:1-f

Trusting God

I’m convinced that saving faith is not believing that God exists. According to the Bible, even Satan does that. No, saving faith is more like trust. We are invited to believe not only that God exists, but that He loves us and has our best interest foremost in mind regardless of our life situations at the time. More than anything else God wants us to trust Him. I don’t think we do that very well as a whole. It began in the garden of Eden but the Bible is full of other examples of how we don’t trust Him or His promises. After the mighty devastation of the “world wide” flood, we see what might be another illustration of man’s failure to trust God and His promises.

After the flood God set the rainbow in the sky and made a promise that He would never again destroy the world with a flood. My son got flooded out of his home in Waterloo just a couple weeks ago but thankfully, I lived on higher ground and he and the grandsons had a place to stay. Even now he’s cleaning up and trying to set up housekeeping once again on the same land. If that had been a  universal flood we’d all be in big trouble, huh? But that can’t happen. Why do those flooded out want to rebuild? Aren’t they afraid of another flood? Maybe, maybe not, but they have a promise from God that there will always be dry ground somewhere to run to.

After the flood in Genesis, the descendants of Noah decided to build a tower into the sky. I’ve always wondered why? Could it be that they didn’t really trust in the promise of God not to destroy the world with water again? It does seem to fit the context! They said to themselves, “let us build a tower so high that everyone will know who we are” and when it rains again they will know where to come to escape the carnage. If you look at the ancient civilizations around the world, you will see evidence of high structures: pyramids, the La Danta Temple in Guatemala, Inca temples, just to name a few. They all appear to have some religious significance. We can’t trust God to keep His word, so we must save ourselves! This is the birth of “religion.” The works of man’s hands designed to save himself.

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.

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