Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Relief of Grace

Promises from Chapter 6: “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” …I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.” [NIV]

II Corinthians 7:1 Having such great promises as these, dear friends, let us turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves, living in the wholesome fear of God, giving ourselves to him alone. [TLB]

There was a day when we understood those promises of God, turned away from our sin and believed his words: “I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”  That first “turning away” brought us the life-changing relief of grace.  It was a spectacular beginning but that’s exactly what it was…the first day of the rest of our life.  

The relief of grace is God’s gift of courage to look at the challenges of the rest of our life and be willing to confess we still need courage  to “turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves… giving ourselves to him alone.”

Unyoked

II Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be [KJV adds unequally here] yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 

We know from our most reliable examples, Jesus and Paul, these verses mean something more than turning your back on unbelievers.  These two men were real evangelists.   That makes this Scripture passage thought provoking.  The word comparisons are easy.  We know righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common, nor do light and darkness or Christ and idols.  “Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”  What is this separation that protects righteousness, fellowship and harmony so it’s clearly the antidote to wickedness, darkness and idols?   What is the concern about being “yoked” together?  

The idea of a yoke sounds helpful.  My definition of a yoke is a device that enables two separate animals to pull together to purposely lighten the weight of a load and accomplish a specific task.   If you look at my definition as a believer coming along side an unbeliever to “yoke” up with them to deal with a load of sin and accomplish the specific task of salvation it might seem to be a reasonable definition of evangelism.  But…

What if Paul’s warning is for us to recognize the reality that being “yoked” is only a forced restraint of the fundamental incompatibility of purpose and task for the unbeliever.  The Lord’s reality is that righteousness, fellowship and harmony come from the unyoked evangelist who has the courage and  the strength to lead that unbeliever “As God has said: Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate.”

Weapons of Righteousness

II Corinthians 6:3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;   8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  

I read through these verses and was struck by how many word comparisons Paul uses just after he writes about weapons so I made a list – but in columns: a left-hand one and a right-hand one.  Apparently comparisons are catching and maybe that’s exactly what Paul had in mind.  It certainly has made me think.  

The left column is clearly filled with recognizable defensive weapons of righteousness.  What if all those words in that right-hand column might also be weapons of rightousness?  The Holy Spirit revealed our desire for those commendable words in the left-hand column to be a reality our lives at the same time our eyes recognized the words of the right-hand column were a part of that same reality.  Doesn’t that make those dismal words pretty effective weapons of righteousness too?
Glory                                 Dishonor
Good Report.                   Bad Report
Genuine.                           Imposters
Known.                              Unknown
We Live On                       Dying
Not Yet Killed.                  Beaten
Rejoicing.                           Sorrowful
Rich.                                    Poor
Everything                         Nothing
One column wasn’t enough to bring us into the faith of Jesus Christ on that day we came to our senses and returned to His victory and I’m guessing a majority of us would admit our lives still need both columns today.  We couldn’t have understood glory if we hadn’t recognized dishonor or desired a good report if we hadn’t been aware of our bad report “then”.  You can continue on down the list for yourself and just make the change to present tense: we can’t understand glory if we don’t recognize our dishonor, or desire a good report if we can’t confess a bad report.

The words in both those columns have turned out to be very effective weapons ”of endurance, in purity, understanding, patience and kindness “then” and “the power of God [to arm us now] with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left…”

Now!

II Corinthians 6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”  [from Isaiah 49:8]  I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

To my co-workers:
“Now” seems like such an insignificant little word compared to these other words in the verses; God, grace, favor, helped and salvation.  How important could one little word be?  I can answer that for you.  

If it weren’t for that one little word we’d have to settle for other words like “then, later, eventually, and sometime.”    Ask yourself: how significant faith would be if those words were all God had to offer you? 

“Now” may be a small word  but it’s an indispensable part of the grace we are urged to receive and respect.   “Now” is why God’s Word is called “living.”  “Now!” Is the whole point of the narrative of faith.

God – Now!  Grace – Now!  Favor – Now!  Helped – Now!  Salvation – Now!

Obligation and Purpose

II Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Being an ambassador “…as though God were making his appeal through us” become more real to me this week.  I wanted to implore these people I really care about but instead my appeal was full of frustrated emotion and more loaded with the need to persuade than the desire that anyone might be reconciled to God.  It’s so easy to spout off when you get your mouth and emotion involved.  The fact is being an ambassador for Christ has obligations of grace.

I lost track of the reality that grace at it’s most basic level is God working to give me time to change.  My motivation was more of the problem than my words were, and I blew it. I disappointed myself, and my two best advocates, Christ and my husband.  It’s been a reminder to me of the obligation of, and my need for, grace AND it’s purpose.  

Forgiveness has bound me to these people and grace in a new way AND loosed me to transformation “so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God”…together.

Negotiate? [Pray?]

Genesis 18:25 Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 

Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous” the Lord chose to go and check it out for himself.  It’s personal for him.  “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

It’s personal for Abraham too.  The fruit of the promise the Lord had given him long ago is in sight.  “…the Lord said to Abraham…I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”  Two of the guests had left for Sodom and Gomorrah but “Abraham remained standing before the Lord” to negotiate? [pray?] about how many righteous people it would take for the city to be spared.   His heart was filled with concern because now this would be his son’s future too. 

Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Fifty righteous people became 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally  Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”  He [God] answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home” …to wait for the future. 

Did Abraham speak to reassure himself or God?
The answer to my question is “both.”  We negotiate? [pray?] to reassure ourselves and the Lord that we do care about the righteous and the unrighteous no matter how shortsighted our faith is as we wait for the future and wonder “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 

The Next Episode

Genesis 4:8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”  While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”  “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

What began in the garden of all creation became a soap opera story of the loss of promise along with the privilege and perfection of that first couple.  They both had the chance to stand face to face with God and admit what they’d done but Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  What they’d done just couldn’t be undone.  There was blame with lasting consequences and inestimable loss.

That first fruit had taken root and reproduced itself in a  deadly way in their second son.  Cain murdered his brother Abel.  Then he chose to disavow his guilt with the same technique the serpent had used to defy God and deceive his parents…deflection…the fruit of deceit. The simple use of one question to deflect another – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The fruit of deceit would be the identifying mark on Cain for the rest of his life.  That identifying mark has lasted and the soap opera continues.

We are living in the next episode.  Life is our test of how we deal with real lies and real guilt in real lives.  We are the broken descendants of that first family but we do not have to be marked by that rotten fruit.  We can choose to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”  [Philippians 1:11 NIV]