We Don’t Find Grace, Grace Finds Us BY TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN, CHRISTIAN POST COLUMNIST

I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible. A piece of it goes like this:

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.

She’s right. I think that most people, when they read the Bible (and especially when they read the Old Testament), read it as a catalog of heroes (on the one hand) and cautionary tales (on the other). For instance, don’t be like Cain – he killed his brother in a fit of jealousy – but do be like David: God asked him to do something crazy, and he had the faith to follow through.

Since Genesis 3 we have been addicted to setting our sights on something, someone, smaller than Jesus. Why? It’s not that there aren’t things about certain people in the Bible that aren’t admirable. Of course there are. We quickly forget, however, that whatever we see in them that is commendable is a reflection of the gift of righteousness they’ve received from God-it is nothing about them in and of itself.

Running counter to this idea of Bible-as-hero-catalog, I find that the best news in the Bible is that God incessantly comes to the down-trodden, broken, and non-heroic characters. It’s good news because it means he comes to people like me – and like you.

Our impulse to protect Bible characters and make them the “end” of the story happens almost universally with the story of Noah.

Noah is often presented to us as the first character in the Bible really worthy of emulation. Adam? Sinner. Eve? Sinner. Cain? Big sinner! But Noah? Finally, someone we can set our sights on, someone we can shape our lives after, right? This is why so many Sunday School lessons handle the story of Noah like this: “Remember, you can believe what God says! Just like Noah! You too can stand up to unrighteousness and wickedness in our world like Noah did. Don’t be like the bad people who mocked Noah. Be like Noah.”

I understand why many would read this account in this way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Pretty incontrovertible, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s take a closer look. You can’t understand verse 9 properly unless you understand its context. Here’s the whole section, verses 5-7:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created-and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground-for I regret that I have made them.”

Now that’s a little different, isn’t it? Look at all the superlatives: every inclination, only evil, all the time! That kind of language doesn’t leave a lot of room for exceptions…and “exception” is just the way Noah has always been described to me. “Well,” I hear, “Everyone was sinful except Noah. He was able to be a righteous man in a sinful world…it’s what we’re all called to be.” But that’s not at all what God says! He says, simply and bluntly, that he “will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created.” No exceptions. No exclusions.

So what happens? How do we get from verse 7 (“I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created…for I regret that I have made them.”) to verse 9 (“Noah was a righteous man.”)? We get from here to there – from sin to righteousness – by the glory of verse 8, which highlights the glory of God’s initiating grace.

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).

Some read this and make it sound like God is scouring the earth to find someone-anyone-who is righteous. And then one day, while searching high and low, God sees Noah and breathes a Divine sigh of relief. “Phew…there’s at least one.” But that’s not what it says.

“Favor” here is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “grace.” In other words, as is the case with all of us who know God, it was God who found us-we didn’t find God. We are where we are today, not because we found grace, but because grace found us. In his book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis recounts his own conversion with these memorable words:

You must picture me alone in my room, night after night, feeling the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me. In the fall term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most reluctant convert in all England. Modern people cheerfully talk about the search for God. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.

It took the grace of God to move Noah from the ranks of the all-encompassing unrighteous onto the rolls of the redeemed. Pay special attention to the order of things: 1) Noah is a sinner, 2) God’s grace comes to Noah, and 3) Noah is righteous. Noah’s righteousness is not a precondition for his receiving favor (though we are wired to read it this way)…his righteousness is a result of his having already received favor!

The Gospel is not a story of God meeting sinners half-way, of God desperately hoping to find that one righteous man on whom he can bestow his favor. The news is so much better than that. The Gospel is that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Sinners like Noah, like you, and like me are recipients of a descending, one-way love that changes everything, breathes new life into dead people, and has the power to carry us from unrighteousness to righteousness without an ounce of help.

So, even in the story of Noah, we see that the Bible is a not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes whom we are commanded to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail; they make huge mistakes; they get afraid; they’re selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our badness with His goodness.

Yes, God is the hero of every story – even the story of Noah.

http://www.christianpost.com/news/we-dont-find-grace-grace-finds-us-114749/

Moses

Exodus 4:7-14

“I AM”

The Lord continued to speak to Moses from the burning bush in the desert. “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and have heard their cries,” He said. “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

Moses replied. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”

“I will be with you,” God said to him.

Moses realized that the Israelites might not be happy with him as their leader. So he said, “If I go to the Israelites and they ask who sent me, what will I say?”

Then God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. You must tell them that I AM has sent you.”

Can God be in the past, the present, and the future?

Do you look forward to the end of a long school day or to the end of the week? Do you sometimes think back to some fun things you’ve done with your friends, or wonder what you will be when you grow up?

Everything in life has a beginning and an end, whether it is a day or a lifetime. We measure the time between the beginning and end of something in minutes or hours, in days or in years. It is hard for us to understand what it would be like not to have time.

God uses the name ‘I AM’ to help us understand that He is in the past, the present and the future. God doesn’t just see into the future, or travel back in time. He is in the past right now, He is everywhere at this very moment and He is in the future at this instant—all at the same time!  He is always just there; that is why He calls Himself I AM.

Verse for today

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”
Hebrews 13:8.

http://www.truthforkids.com/february-19/

A Love Story

A Love Story - Jacob & Rachel

(Genesis 29) 

Jacob was on the run.

He was running from his brother Esau.

Jacob had tricked his brother out of their father’s blessing, and now Esau was so angry, he wanted to kill him.

So Jacob was traveling east, to the land where his grandfather Abraham was born.

He was also hoping to choose a wife from his grandfather’s family.

Early on a warm afternoon, he came to a well in the fields outside the town of Haran.

The well was just like the one that his grandfather’s servant had come to many years before, when he was looking for a wife for Isaac. It may have been the very same one.

Three flocks of sheep were lying in the fields beside the well, waiting for their shepherds to water them.

There was a large stone covering the well, and the shepherds had to wait until all the shepherds were there before they could move it.

So Jacob came up to the shepherds and said, “My friends, where are you from?”

“From Haran,” they answered.

“Then you must know my uncle Laban! He is from Haran,” Jacob said.

“Yes, we do,” the shepherds answered.

“Is he well?” Jacob asked.

“He is well, indeed,” the shepherds said, “And look, here comes his daughter Rachel now, with his flock of sheep!”

Jacob said, “Let’s roll back the stone so that we can water the sheep.”

“We can’t, the stone is too heavy,” the shepherds answered. “We have to wait until all the shepherds are here.”

At that moment Rachel arrived with her father’s sheep.

When Jacob’s eyes met Rachel’s, it was as if the world came to a stop. The crying of the sheep, the laughing and talking of the shepherds, all seemed to disappear. It was as if there was no one else in all the world but the two of them.

Jacob fell so deeply, crazy in love with Rachel, that he walked over to that huge stone and rolled it away himself.

“Here, now you may water your sheep!” he said to Rachel.

And then he kissed her.

“I am your relative. Your aunt Rebekah is my mother,” he told her at last.

Rachel ran home to tell her father all that had happened. When her father heard the news, he ran to meet Jacob. He hugged and kissed this nephew he hadn’t known until now, and brought him to his home.

When Jacob had told his story, Laban said, “You are indeed my own flesh and blood!”

And so Jacob stayed with his uncle’s family for a whole month. Then Laban said to Jacob, “You shouldn’t have to work for me for nothing just because you are my relative! How can I pay you?”

Now, Laban had two daughters. Rachel was the younger, and Leah was the older. Leah had beautiful eyes, but Jacob was in love with Rachel. And so Jacob said, “I will work for you for seven years if you will let me marry your daughter Rachel.”

Laban said, “I would rather give her to you than to anyone else.”

And so Jacob worked for his uncle for seven years.

But to Jacob, the years seemed like nothing at all. Just to be near the one he loved was enough to fill his heart.

Finally, the day came that Jacob had worked for all those years. At last, Laban gave his daughter Rachel to be married.

There was a great wedding feast. And that night, under a sky of shining stars, Rachel came to Jacob’s tent. She was wrapped from head to foot in layers of veils and flowing robes.

Jacob took her by the hand and led her inside. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. They were alone together at last. And that night, in the eyes of God, Rachel became Jacob’s wife, and he became her husband.

Before that night they were two separate people. Now God had joined the two together, and they became one family.

The two became one.

But, when the light of morning came, Jacob awoke to a big surprise.

It wasn’t Rachel he had married at all! It was her sister Leah he was lying beside!

Jacob jumped from his bed and ran straight to the tent of his Uncle Laban.

“You tricked me! You promised me Rachel, but you gave me Leah instead!”

Well – look who’s talking! The cheater got cheated.

He didn’t like it very much.

Laban said to him, “It isn’t our custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older. Work for me another seven years, and I will give you Rachel as well.”

And so Jacob agreed, and Jacob and Rachel were married at last.

Jacob worked for his uncle another seven years.

He would have gladly worked a hundred, he loved her so deeply.

http://www.essex1.com/pages/paul/bible27.html

By the Light of the Moon

All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD.—Exodus 35:22

The Torah portion for this week is Vayakhel, which means “assembled,” from Exodus 35:1—38:20, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:13–26.

Helen Keller once observed: “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” Faith gives us the power to persevere when all seems lost so we might find that nothing has been lost — and in turn, we will have found everything.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the gifts the people gave to building the Tabernacle. When theTorah first tells us about the contributions, we read: “All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments.” From this we learn that both men and women contributed. However, a look at the original Hebrew reveals a more nuanced story. The verse more literally reads: “The men came on the heels of the women.” The men followed the women who were quick to be first in line.

The Sages point out that the enthusiasm the women had for contributing to the Tabernacle stands in stark contrast to their refusal to give their jewelry for the sake of building the golden calf. According to Judaism, the women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf. They had faith that Moses would return from Mount Sinai, unlike the men who had given him up for dead.

The Sages teach because of the women’s refusal to give their jewelry for idolatry, along with their willingness to give their valuables away for God’s purposes, they received a special holiday. The Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycles, so every new moon marks a new month, and in the Jewish tradition, it is also a mini-holiday. However, it is specifically a women’s holiday – one in which they abstain from work and enjoy.

Why was the holiday of the New Moon given as a reward for the piety of the women?

In Judaism, the moon is a symbol of faith. At times the moon is full and bright. But at other points in the month, the moon is only a sliver in the sky and it appears that the moon is all but lost. This represents the times in our lives where things seem hopeless. We are like that sliver in the sky, feeling at times like we may never be full again. However, faith tells us not to give up hope; the moon will shine once more, and indeed it does. Because the women refused to give up on Moses and held on to their faith, they were given the holiday that celebrates faith – the holiday of the New Moon.

Friends, when all seems lost, remember the moon. No matter how dark things may seem, hold on to faith, and the light will shine once again.

By the Light of the Moon

Putting Off Falsehood and Speaking the Truth . . . Really? Are You Serious? by Mark D. Roberts

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

In yesterday’s reflection, I began to consider Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” I expect that most of us find this instruction to be rather obvious and unobjectionable. Who would defend lying? And who wouldn’t be in favor of telling the truth?

But then reality raises its ugly head. A colleague at work asks, “How did you like my presentation?” In fact, you thought it was terrible, but if you tell the truth it will make things at work very messy. Seems much better to say, “Oh, it was great,” while crossing the fingers of your heart. Or, your husband says to you, “Are these pants too tight?” and you know that saying “Yes” will make him feel horrible about himself and his expanding waistline. (Not that I have any personal experience of this problem, mind you.) In situations like these and so many others, it seems best to say anything other than the truth. Yet, aren’t we supposed to put off falsehood and put on the truth? That sounds great in principle, but in real life? Seriously?

I’ve been getting questions like this for a long time. In 2002, I preached a series on truthfulness for Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I was Senior Pastor. Each week, I wrestled with the challenge of truthfulness in my own life. So did my congregation. I often received post-sermon comments that went something like this: “I hate that sermon. I need it. But I hate it.” That sermon series became the basis for a book I wrote called Dare to Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty(WaterBrook, 2003). Since that book was published, I’ve received hundreds of comments or emails pleading for the necessity of being something less than truthful. I understand these concerns, because, just like everyone else, I struggle with what it really means to tell the truth in situations where lying seems so much more prudent.

I’m not going to settle these issues here. I admit that there are certain instances in which telling the truth seems to be unwise. But, what I find telling is, when confronting Ephesians 4:25, how quickly our minds race to defend our lack of truthfulness. Rather than thinking, “Hmmm. I wonder how I can put this into practice today?” we often think, “Whoa! How can I avoid the obvious implications of this instruction?” We rush to think up extreme examples in order to let ourselves off the hook. If people were right to lie to the Nazis about the Jews hidden in their cellars, then this gives me the right to keep wearing my garment of falsehood at work, at home, and among my friends.

While I know there are some very tricky problems associated with truth-telling in certain situations, I want to encourage you—no, indeed, to urge you—not to let this fact keep you from confronting what is real in your life. If you’re like most Christians I have known, you are much more comfortable with falsehood and much less committed to truthfulness than you might at first think. Don’t let the extreme examples keep you from taking a good hard look at your life, so that, by God’s grace, you might strip off fibbing and put on the glorious garment of truth.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Are there situations in your life when you are inclined to be less than truthful? As you think about your work, your family life, your conversations with friends, your tax returns, and the rest of life, where do you find it most tempting to avoid the truth? Is there truth that you really need to tell today, even though you’d rather not? Are you willing to ask God to help you put on the new self of truth in this context?

PRAYER: Gracious God, you know how much I like to think of myself as a truthful person. There are many times when, by your grace, I am able to say what’s truth even when it’s awkward or difficult. Yet, you also know, Lord, how often I am less than truthful. You know when I fall prey to temptation, when I lie to others, and even to myself. Sometimes my intentions are honorable, but my words are not. Forgive me, Lord.

Help me, I pray, to put off falsehood and to put on truth. Help me to see myself clearly. Help me to have the courage and grace to speak the truth. And help me to do this in love, always in love. Amen.

http://www.thehighcalling.org/reflection/putting-falsehood-and-speaking-truth-really-are-you-serious#.UwShkvldWFs

“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

Consider what heavenly blessings there are for those who have a living union with the Son of God. Everything is provided for them that shall be for their salvation and their sanctification: not a single blessing has God withheld that shall be for their eternal good. View them as foolish, ignorant, unable to see the way, puzzled and perplexed by a thousand difficulties, harassed by sin, tempted by Satan, far off upon the sea. How shall they reach the heavenly shore? God, by an infinite act of sovereign love, has made his dear Son to be their “wisdom,” so that none shall err so as to err fatally; none shall miss the road for want of heavenly direction to find it or walk in it. Their glorious Head, who is in heaven, is made of God unto them wisdom on earth to bring them to their heavenly inheritance. He opens up his word to their heart; he sends down a ray of light into their bosom, illuminating the sacred page and guiding their feet into the way of truth and peace. If they wander, he brings them back; if they stumble, he raises them up; and whatever be the difficulties that beset their path, sooner or later some kind direction or heavenly admonition comes from his gracious Majesty. Thus the wayfaring man, though a fool, does not err in the way of life, for his gracious Lord being his “wisdom” leads him safely along through every difficulty until he sets him before his face in glory.

http://devotionals.ochristian.com/j-c-philpot-daily-portions.shtml

Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them. Ezekiel 36:37

Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. Turn to sacred history, and you will find that scarcely ever did a great mercy come to this world unheralded by supplication. You have found this true in your own personal experience. God has given you many an unsolicited favour, but still great prayer has always been the prelude of great mercy with you. When you first found peace through the blood of the cross, you had been praying much, and earnestly interceding with God that He would remove your doubts, and deliver you from your distresses. Your assurance was the result of prayer. When at any time you have had high and rapturous joys, you have been obliged to look upon them as answers to your prayers. When you have had great deliverances out of sore troubles, and mighty helps in great dangers, you have been able to say, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Prayer is always the preface to blessing. It goes before the blessing as the blessing’s shadow. When the sunlight of God’s mercies rises upon our necessities, it casts the shadow of prayer far down upon the plain. Or, to use another illustration, when God piles up a hill of mercies, He Himself shines behind them, and He casts on our spirits the shadow of prayer, so that we may rest certain, if we are much in prayer, our pleadings are the shadows of mercy. Prayer is thus connected with the blessing to show us the value of it. If we had the blessings without asking for them, we should think them common things; but prayer makes our mercies more precious than diamonds. The things we ask for are precious, but we do not realize their preciousness until we have sought for them earnestly.
“Prayer makes the darken’d cloud withdraw;
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love;
Brings every blessing from above.”