Blessed to be a blessing

And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham.
You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you. 

I will bless you…and you will be a blessing.

And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father….And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.—He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come–all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. —Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life.  He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness!  And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises [so that you may] escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature. —As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Give as freely as you have received!

Gal.3:29 NLT; Gen.12:2 NIV; Gal.4:6,7 NLT; Rom.8:32 NIV;  I Cor. 3:22-23 NKJV; Eph. 1:3-4 ESV; II Pet.1:3-4 NLT; II Cor.6:10 KJV; Mt. 10:8 NLT


God has done it–the promises are His and the carrying out of them–I will bless you and you will be a blessing.  It is our part to believe and  to live out of His rich resources.  I’m pretty sure I don’t comprehend the half of what I possess in Christ.  What does it even mean that we ‘possess all things’?!

What I do know, thanks to Abraham, is that bad things happen when we doubt God’s ability to fulfill His promises in His timetable.  Doubt leaves the door open to our own paltry store of resources.  It cries: ‘DO SOMETHING!’.  Abraham and Sarah did.  And they can attest to the results.  Their offspring are still at war.

But God is intent on blessing His children and making them a blessing, if only we will look and live…And I am intent on grasping what it is to rest in God’s promise, to believe that all I am and have in Christ is enough to leave behind a blessing wherever I may go…

Paul devoted a whole letter to dealing with the issue of ‘God’s own fulfillment of His promise’  versus  ‘a human attempt to bring about the fulfilment of God’s promise’  (Gal.4:23 NLT British text) He was frankly fearful for the plight of anyone trying to find favour with God by what you do or don’t do.” (Gal.4:10 NLT) because God had done all that was necessary. All that was left was to rely on His supply.

The penniless sinner thereby becomes the heir to all things and is equipped to represent God to a poverty-stricken world! This is an arrangement not dependent on ‘keeping up my side of the deal’.  In this new deal God acted on his own, knowing this would be the only way the deal would go through.  He committed to do good to Abraham all the days of his life and through him to bless the whole world.  In sending Jesus this blessing has become reality for all who believe, no exceptions.

“A mediator is needed if two people enter into an agreement, but God acted on his own when he made his promise to Abraham.” Gal.3:20 NLT

‘…while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ Rom.5:8

In Christ, God woos the penitent sinner–no worries,  I have done it all.  Rest your weakness on me.  Know that you are not able but I am. And we are declared ‘children of the free woman, acceptable to God because of our faith.’ (Gal.4:31 NLT) and fit for all the good works God has prepared for us to walk in.  If I sometimes doubt my ability to be a blessing perhaps I have lost sight of the very promises of God.  To be blessed and a blessing is just a fact of life in the Spirit!  As we abide in Christ we are the salt of the earth and bright luminaries in a dark world.  Blessed to be a blessing–that is what you are!

 

 

Hope for the Waiting…

“Where is this God of yours?” —Why am I so discouraged?  Why so sad?—I hate my life. I do not want to go on living.  Oh, leave me alone for these few remaining days. 

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again–my Saviour and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness…through each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. —He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? —We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us–one gracious blessing after another. 

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. —Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. 

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.—He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy! 

Ps.42:3NLT; Job 7:16NLT; Ps.42:5,6,8NLT; Rom 8:32 ESV; Jn.1:16:NLT; Ps.27:14 KJV; Ps.25:5 KJV; Ps.25:5 ESV; Ps.40:1-3 NLT; Job.8:21 NLT


For all the wrong-headedness of Job’s friends, Bildad got this one right.  Though he misjudged Job he did manage to point him to hope based on the nature of God–He will surely not reject a person of integrity nor will he leave the evildoer unpunished.  We cannot always know WHY we suffer or WHY we seem to wait interminably for relief, but we can know the character of God. Here we can place our hope when life is at its bleakest.

I was intrigued to see that the sense of this word ‘WAIT’ as the psalmist uses it implies an eager looking forward, a hope and expectancy for what’s to come.  This is no impatient twiddling of thumbs kind of waiting, but an eager watching to see what God is doing and will do.  It’s a wait of faith, buoyed up by the evidences we have already seen of His love–I will remember your kindness. Whether you find yourself in a crucible of waiting or in an open pasture of plenty today, these are words to store up and dwell on. They are foundation pieces for a tenacious hope that makes God’s goodness palpable to those who see the way you smile in the waiting rooms of life.

–LS

He will come and save you!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

II Cor. 4:17 NIV

When your calling involves waiting…

John the Baptist  had fulfilled his calling–to prepare hearts for Jesus’ coming by urging them to repent.  It landed him in jail.  Herod’s mistress didn’t appreciate his calling. (See the story in Mark 6:12-29) From the dungeon he heard about the miracles Jesus and his disciples were doing…but still he found himself in prison.  Wasn’t the Messiah to be One who would “open the eyes of the blind AND free the captives from prison”?!  Isaiah had said so in practically the same breath in which had prophesied John’s coming to ‘make a highway for the LORD through the wilderness’ (Is.40:3) John likely knew the passage: “You will release those who sit in dark dungeons” (Is.42:7)  but here he was in prison about to be executed at the whim of an adulterous woman. And he sent Jesus this message:

“Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for,
or should we keep looking for someone else?”

It’s easy to lose heart when things don’t turn out the way we’d expected.  It’s easy to lose perspective, to miss the things that God is doing because we’re fixated on the things He isn’t doing.  Even when Jesus walked the earth to announce the Kingdom of God was at hand, not everyone got everything they might have hoped for.  It’s true that some blind people received sight and some deaf were made to hear.  Some lepers were made clean. And some lame were made to walk.  But what became of the poor?  They were not made suddenly rich.  Instead the Good News was preached to them. (See: Matthew 11:5)  They were still poor in worldly goods but now they had hope: peace with God is attainable by sinful man and this life as we know it is not all there is.  Herein is hope! And we have that same Good News to cling to while we wait for its full implications to materialize.

I’ve been making my way through the short book of Malachi. It is the final prophecy before the prophet-less Silent Years that break into voice again with the coming of John the Baptist in the opening pages of the New Testament.  In Malachi’s prophecy the edges blur between Jesus’ first and second coming.

“‘Look! I am sending my messenger, (i.e.John the Baptist) and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple.  The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming.’ says the LORD Almighty.” Mal.3:1

What was hoped for was relief from the tyranny of oppression.  The people were crying out “Where is the God of justice?” and yet they were not cognizant that justice for their enemies would not be impartial. God’s coming judgment would include them! Did they know what they were asking for?  The whole book is pretty much a tirade to get God’s people to see their own despicable behavior from God’s point of view!  They were crying out for God to show up but clueless of what that might mean.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes?  Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?” Mal.3:2 NLT

He will sit and judge like a refiner of silver, watching closely as the dross is burned away. He will purify…that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD…Now return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD Almighty Mal.3:3,7 NLT

What they didn’t comprehend was that God too was waiting, not willing to destroy His beloved Israel.  He was waiting for them to turn and be saved:  “Now return to me and I will return to you”(Mal.3:7) His was a long wait for they were not willing, not seeing, not believing that they had done anything needing to be turned from.

And so, in His first coming, God mercifully appeared in the form of a man to take away the sins of the world.  He came first to save those who would trust His prognosis that they surely needed a Saviour, not so much from the Romans as from themselves!

He will in fact return to rescue those who are eagerly waiting for Him and to mete out justice on those who have scoffed at the notion of His returning.  And so we wait, and we endure the process wherever it finds us.  For John the Baptist it was a prison cell from which he was released only by death.  For us it may be a crucible of pain or a confusing turn of circumstances. It may be grief or merely tedium.  But we can be sure that God is watching and waiting, refining His own so they will shine all the more brightly in a dark world that needs to see Him as Saviour before He returns as Judge.  Meanwhile He waits, unwilling that any should perish…

Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens.  Remember the great reward it brings you!  Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will.  Then you will receive all that he has promised.  For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.  And a righteous person will live by faith… 

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing, … Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. 

…will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 

..but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, … But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 

Heb.10:35-38a NLT; Is.30:15, 18 NASB; Lk.18:7-8 NASB; Heb.10:12-13 NASB; 
II Pet.3:9-11, 13 ESV

Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame…Ps.25:3ESV

It’s all of faith…

It’s Reformation Day!

Five-hundred years ago today Martin Luther publicized  ninety-five propositions for debate–points where he said the church was in error and in violation of what was taught in the Bible.  His arguments centered around the practice of indulgences, the idea that forgiveness could be secured with money.  He argued that this practice short-circuited genuine repentance of the heart and declared that only God could forgive sins.  This was only the start of all he would come to see but it sparked the Reformation of the church to embrace the doctrine of justification by faith rather than works.

What a perfect day to be arriving at the book of Galatians!  I couldn’t stop with just the first chapter, as per my reading plan.  I love this book.  I NEED this book.  My Pharisaical tendency is to measure my goodness by how I perceive I’m doing with rule-keeping rather than by faith in the goodness of Christ. I need these vigorous words of Paul on a regular basis!  So I devoured the first three chapters, jolted to attention by the New Living Translation’s way of interpreting Paul…

Paul was himself shocked to see the Galatians trotting gladly back down a path that pretended to be good news but was indeed very very bad news. Having started their lives in Christ by the Spirit through faith they were now trying to become perfect by their own human effort.

Sounds too familiar.

What happens, I think,  is this.  We come to Christ. We believe He died for our sins. We repent and start fresh, empowered by the Spirit to live a life that loves God and delights to live according to His design.  But sin is not absent…We don’t love like Jesus does.  Or we are still tempted by our pet comforts. Or we…whatever!

At some point we realize we are still sinners.

“But what if we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then find out that we are still sinners?” (2:17)

What then?

There are a number of options.  This is the one I am most familiar with:

Feel guilty.  Kick yourself.  Doubt that you are saved, or, if you’ve already worked through that, then assume that you are just an exception to those saints who have found permanent favor with God.  You’re still working to earn that smile, to erase His perennial disappointment…

And then, when you’ve had enough of that form of self-inflicted penance, resolve to do better next time.  To be different than you are.  To learn to imitate Jesus, somehow!  Probably some sort of ‘system’ will help.  And if self-discipline fails, well, hope that your best intentions will earn you a better standing…

And what does Paul say to that?

“Have you lost your senses?  After starting you Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal.3:3)

He spends the whole letter to the Galatians laying out a better way, the truly good news of the Gospel–

First he points out that the old system of using self-effort to try to conform to God’s law will only prove that we can never earn God’s approval.  The law only demonstrates that all have sinned and only dictates that the sinner must die!  But behold! Jesus took our sins and did just that.  The Law holds no case against us now.  Guilt is only meant to drive us back to faith in Christ!  This is the good news of the Gospel and it remains our only hope of living a truly Christian life.  Jesus has died to give us a new quality of life–the eternal kind, that is born of faith by the Spirit and is continually empowered by that same Spirit, through faith.

Paul puts it in a nutshell this way:

“I have been crucified with Christ.  I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (2:19,20)

There remains no place for confidence in what I can do without Him.  By believing He died for me, I am consenting to my own death and taking on a new life, His.  This is the life that matters, Christ alive and well by His Spirit living in and through me. Me saying ‘no’ to the demands of the old nature and ‘yes’ to the Spirit’s promptings.

Anytime I rely on my own ability to be good enough apart from this dependence on the Spirit, I treat the grace of God as meaningless.  I don’t need grace. I’m doing just fine.  Grace is for the weakling.

 What’s worse, this independence will always lead to guilt and defeat with its endless cycle of trying harder.  The Law is made for this. It shows up our dependence on a power beyond ourselves.

“The Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God’s promise is to believe in Jesus Christ” (3:22)

And so we arrive at the place Luther arrived now five-hundred years ago.  The only way to live a righteous life is by faith.  Or as he put it:

“the righteous man draws his life out of his faith,” and faith is that because of which he is counted righteous before God.’*

Let us believe, and keep on believing, that God’s promises are yes and amen! in Jesus.    There’s no point in expecting the flesh to improve.  The life we now live, this kind that stretches to all eternity for the glory of God, is His gift and the work of His Spirit in us.  He will lead us through the perils of living in a body that’s destined to die.  And as we follow His promptings, saying ‘no’ to what the flesh wants and ‘yes’ to what God wants, we will live!  And when we sin, we needn’t cower before the Father.  We are His children still.   He’s given us an advocate–Jesus who died that we may have life.  He’s given us a Helper who prays for us in keeping with all God has for us and who leads us ever away from sin and toward truth and life. What more could we need?

“So, dear brothers and sister, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.  For if you keep on following it, you will perish.  But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Rom.8:12-14)

I will leave you with Martin Luther’s own thoughts in his commentary on Galatians.  I hope they will spur you on, as they have me, to believe what we do not always feel and to fight the good fight of faith till we stand forever grateful before God’s throne!

“If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so happy and grateful to God. But because we often feel fear and doubt we cannot come to that happy certainty.

“Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy….”

“….Let us never doubt the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, but make up our minds that God is pleased with us, that He looks after us, and that we have the Holy Spirit who prays for us.” (–Martin Luther, Bible Commentary on Galatians)

–LS

*from Martin Luther’s A Treatise on Good Works

Oh, and just one more thing.  You mustn’t miss this, especially if you have children in your life somewhere, but even if you don’t!  It’s a delightful video featuring Playmobil figurines retelling the life of Martin Luther and the good news he found.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

My gracious favour is all you need

My gracious favour is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness…Since I know it’s all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. (!)  For when I am weak, then I am strong.—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you. 

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame—LORD, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.  My only hope is in your unfailing love and faithfulness. For troubles surround me–too many to count!

Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD…

II Cor.12:9,10 NLT; Eph.6:10,13 ESV; II Chron. 20:17 ESV; Ps. 40:11-12 NLT; Ps.25:2-3 ESV; Ps. 40: 4

My life is not overflowing with troubles right now.  They loom, it is true, in the recesses of my imagination.  Any number of factors could change without a moment’s notice; I am only too aware of this. Truly “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7 ESV); this is part of the human condition ever since the Garden.  But I don’t think we’re meant to live in fear of what might be just around the corner. 

I tend to live in a sort of braced gratefulness.  I am very thankful for this peaceful interlude in our lives…but a niggling fear nibbles at my heart, warning me to ‘be ready’, ‘watch out!’, ‘brace yourself’ a squall is coming. This temptation to fear prompts me to rely on my own sense of ‘readiness’.  It would steal present peace in exchange for a false sense of future control.  It would undermine my trust in God’s good and sovereign hand over all of life if I yield to its incitements.  So today these verses lay down a strong foundation for faith, the perfect shield for all the enemy’s darts, leaving me free to just be thankful!

O LORD my God, you have done many miracles for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list.  If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
I would never come to the end of them! Ps.40:5