Friday, August 26, 2011

Driven to Grace

Perhaps, sometime recently you’ve been thinking, "Life is hard. I don’t know if I have what it takes to live God's way.” Or maybe you’ve wondered how in the world you can do what God calls you to do as a husband or wife, a parent, friend, relative, worker, neighbor, citizen, or member of the body of Christ in the middle of the busyness of your schedule and the catalog of other responsibilities you carry. Maybe you’ve been thinking, “It seems exhausting just to maintain the status quo let alone working to make things in my life better!” Maybe God's street-level call of daily self-sacrificing love for God and neighbor has left you a bit hopeless and discouraged. Or maybe you’ve had to face the fact that you simply don’t have it inside you to fight the good fight in this fallen world. Perhaps yesterday's failure has left you despondent and discouraged. Maybe a situation, relationship, conversation or a book has given you a lens on yourself and, sadly, you’ve realized that things aren’t what you thought. Perhaps you’re feeling the standard is too high and the work too hard.

Maybe all this has revealed how selfish your heart really is and left you feeling weak and unable. Well, I am about to say something that will surprise you. If this has been your response, then you’re in a very good place. Let me remind you that this is one of the uncomfortable gifts that God is working to give you. He’s designed the right here, right now situations of life to expose the neediness of your heart and, in so doing, to bring you to the end of yourself. Why does God do this? He does it because he knows that its only when you abandon your own wisdom, strength, and righteousness that you’ll begin to get excited about his grace.

What is your hope? This may seem strange to read at this point, but it must be said: the hope of your life isn’t all the principles, insights, and perspectives found in Scripture. No, the hope of your life can be captured in one glorious, powerful, and transforming word—grace. Without rescuing, empowering, forgiving, transforming and delivering grace, the principles of the Bible would only leave you discouraged and overwhelmed. God’s grace guarantees that you, in your struggle, will never be alone. God’s grace assures you that when you’ve blown it, there’s forgiveness to be found. Grace means that there’s strength available when you’re weak. Grace assures you that there’s wisdom for the moments when you don’t know what to do. Grace gives you hope when there seems little to be found. Grace enables you to get up and move forward when inside you want to quit or run away. Grace reminds you again and again that you’re not alone.

You see, God knows that this side of heaven there are ways in which we all are weak and unable. There are ways we all fall below his standards. So he’s given us the only thing that will rescue, restore, and mobilize us. He’s given us himself! In his grace he invades our situations, locations and relationships. He comes with power we don’t possess, wisdom unnatural to us, and love beyond anything we’ve ever known. He’s willing to let you see how weak you actually are so that you’ll begin to seek what you can find only in him. What you should be afraid of in your life isn’t your weakness; being needy is a good place to be. No, what you should be afraid of are your delusions of arrival and strength. When you think you’ve arrived, and when you’re convinced you’re strong, you don’t reach out for the incredible resources of grace that God freely offers, which will give you what you need to live in a way that by yourself you could never live.

Jack and Shannon were exhausted and discouraged because they had no hope; nothing they did made things better. They felt helpless and alone with no place to turn. Jack knew that he shouldn’t be so angry, but he was. Shannon knew she shouldn’t be bitter and judgmental, but she didn’t know how to deal with her disappointment. There were moments of peace, but those moments were increasingly infrequent and fleeting. The distance and tension between them seemed to grow every day. Their home was no longer a refuge to either one.

Rather than doing the hard work of dealing with their problems, Jack and Shannon developed the skill of working around their problems. But as their problems grew, it became impossible for them to work around them anymore. Their marriage was no longer peaceful and enjoyable. Their home was no longer a place of rest and retreat. So they sat in front of me, exhausted and discouraged. But I knew that it was the exhaustion and discouragement of grace. I knew that God hadn’t turned his back on them but was with them, in them, and for them. And I knew that God had their attention in fresh and new ways.

I didn’t start by laying on them all the insights and principles about marriage that Scripture contains. I knew that that would leave them even more overwhelmed. No, for the first few weeks we met together, I did only one thing: I worked to help them see Jesus. I knew that when they began to see and trust his presence, promises, power, and faithfulness, they would begin to think that maybe they could hope to experience what marriage was designed to be, and they would be willing to do the hard work that would get them there. I knew that they would live with the assurance that God would always give them what they need in order to do what he called them to do.

Jack and Shannon didn't need a lecture in God's law. They knew their marriage was a mess and that what they were doing was wrong. What they needed was a fresh vision of God's grace; a vision of grace so huge and glorious that their problems would seem tiny in comparison. It was God who drove them to the end of themselves so that they would do the one thing they hadn't done for a long time, reach out for his transforming grace.

Are you reaching out?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watching your Feet

More than six billion people on this planet are trying to navigate through an increasingly interconnected world of spiritual confusion and moral weakness. Is this all the fault of Adam and Eve’s sin? Not really. Even in their sinless garden, the first man and woman were not equipped to figure out life on their own. We know this because God immediately began to speak to them and direct them as soon as they were created and before the serpent ever uttered a word. By themselves, Adam and Eve would have had no idea who they were or why they existed; no idea how to spend their days. So we see that from the very beginning we were created to be dependent on God, to be willing listeners and humble receivers. God’s Word, spoken directly to man, would give us sure and certain guidance.

Now if this was true of Adam and Eve before sin entered the world, how much more true is it of you and me, who have never known a single sinless day, and are constantly bombarded by unbiblical messages from the world? Certainly, we need to be careful to trust in what we can be sure of.
No passage gets at this need and God’s provision better than Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” When do you need a lamp? Well, you probably wouldn’t pack a flashlight for a picnic lunch in the park. But you wouldn’t think of taking that nighttime walk through the woods without one. And which scenario is more like life in this fallen world: a picnic lunch, or midnight in the woods? You mustn’t try to live as if life is a sunny afternoon picnic. Sin has plunged your world into darkness. On any given day you probably encounter far more falsehood than you do truth. So if you’re going to move forward, to make your way without danger, and get to where you are meant to go, you need something to light your way.

You need light for your marriage and your parenting. You need light for your job and your relationships with your neighbors. You need light for your struggles with desires and temptations. You need light to help you deal with the unexpected. You need light to cope with new difficulties that emerge. You need light for when you’ve been sinned against. You need light to deal with weaknesses of the body and hardships of the heart. You need light for those moments when you’re alone and overwhelmed. You need light for all those unknowns that will show up on your doorstep tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

You don’t need to bloody your nose and bruise your toes by bumping into trees and tripping over roots. You don’t have to grope around fearfully in the darkness. The Light of the World has graced you with the light of his Word. It will shine around your feet in the midst of the darkness so you needn’t stumble and fall. Listen to the reflections of that great nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon on this passage.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. We are walkers through the city of this world, and we are often called to go out into its darkness; let us never venture there without the light giving word, lest we slip with our feet. Each man should use the word of God personally, practically, and habitually, that he may see his way and see what lies in it. When darkness settles down upon all around me, the word of the Lord, like a flaming torch, reveals my way. Having no fixed lamps in eastern towns, in old time each passenger carried a lantern with him that he might not fall into the open sewer, or stumble over the heaps of ordure which defiled the road. This is a true picture of our path through this dark world: we should not know the way, or how to walk in it, if Scripture, like a blazing flambeau, did not reveal it. One of the most practical benefits of Holy Writ is guidance in the acts of daily life: it is not sent to astound us with its brilliance, but to guide us by its instruction. It is true the head needs illumination, but even more the feet need direction, else head and feet may both fall into a ditch. Happy is the man who personally

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prepared Spontaneity

Wise people are not wise because they are prophets who see the future. Wise people are not wise because they can look into men’s hearts and discern their thoughts and motives. Wise people are not wise because they are better at learning from experience. Wise people are not those who’ve been blessed with superior intellect.

Wise people are those who treasure the lamp of God’s Word, seeking out and crying out for the light of truth. In other words, wise people are simply prepared people—biblically prepared and equipped for whatever might come along. People become wise when by God’s grace they are humble enough to accept how unprepared they actually are in themselves. Sacrificing the false god of their own independence, they run to the one place where actual certainty can be found. Then they’re able to live hopefully, productively, and courageously. Then they’re prepared for whatever comes along—not because they saw it coming, but because they’ve been students of the Word of God. They don’t know more about the future than anyone else does. But God, through the wisdom of the Bible, has made them ready for it.

In one sense, this is the secret of “going with the flow” that many people think they are pursuing. In the light of Scripture, however, the nature of all that going and flowing is completely different. It isn’t passive. Its grounded in truth, it understands the real nature of this existence, and its active and attentive.

I call this the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don’t need God-like powers to live a God-honoring life in this fallen world. The perspectives, commands, principles, and promises of the great redemptive story of Scripture will provide all you need to live as you were designed to live; yes, even in this broken world.

You can respond spontaneously and biblically to a myriad of things you didn’t see coming, because God’s Word makes you wise about you, about others, about the meaning and purpose of life, about God and his plan, about basic rights and wrongs, about why things are the way they are and what to do about it, about how we function and how change takes place, and about a host of other things. And because the Bible has made you wise, you’re then ready to face what you neither planned nor expected. You’re ready because you are trusting in what is sure rather than reading the tea leaves of your own viewpoint or passively going with the flow.