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Grace

How to (not) Gain Favor with God

In Judges 17, we come across a young man named Micah. Micah’s name means, “Who is like God”. But Micah isn’t much like God. He steals silver from his mother and then when he ‘fesses up, his mother dedicates some of the silver for Micah to make into two idols. Micah hires out a Levite to be a father-figure and priest for his private shrine. He is convinced that God is pleased and will prosper him for having a Levite for a priest.

How bizarre!

But is it?

 

Two things emerge as noteworthy.

1. A “man of God” allows himself to be bought to aid in someone’s sin.

2. A “believer” feels that God will bless him in his sin because he has a good luck charm in having a “man of God” assisting him.

 

A few questions:

What would cause a “man of God” to compromise his integrity and his calling? Perhaps he was burned out from the work of ministry. Perhaps he had been terminated from his previous position. Regardless, here was a man who needed work and Micah offered him a regular paycheck.

How could someone knowingly run headlong into sin, expecting God’s blessing?

In answering both of these questions, let me just say that it happens every day in the Twenty-first Century for the same reasons. As Solomon wisely said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

People see their vocation simply as an occupation rather than a calling. Since it’s merely a means to the end of putting food on the table, they don’t see anything wrong with using their God-given abilities to make a quick buck. The sad thing is that it is worse when the vocation is “ministry”.

As a case in point, in my lifetime we have seen an agenda emerge from a minority group in our society. We were told that 10% of our population is “gay”. Because we bought this lie, we were told that we needed to tolerate their existence. Next we were told that we needed to accept their lifestyle as normative. Currently, we are being told that we need to endorse homosexual unions by changing the centuries-held definition of marriage and promote adoption of children by these “loving couples”. After all, we are told, orphans are better off being raised by a loving homosexual couple than a dysfunctional heterosexual couple. The implication is that there are few non-dysfunctional heterosexual couples, and that because they have had to overcome society’s intolerances, homosexual couples are more committed in their love for each other. Some of the most outspoken supporters of “gay marriage” are members of the clergy in mainline denominations like the United Methodists and Episcopalians. These denominations have been rocked by division as they have begun ordaining/endorsing clergy who live openly as homosexuals. Somehow, homosexuals expect God’s blessing by having members of the clergy assisting in their pursuits toward legitimacy of sin. Like I said, Solomon was right: nothing is new. We just change the words.

People try to manipulate God all the time in an attempt to get His blessing. They would probably deny it, but people frequently try to make deals with God. “God, I’ll go to church, read my Bible, go to the mission field, etc. if You will bail me out, answer my prayer, etc.” And how much of this deal-making actually involves an expectation of God’s blessing of sin?

According to Joshua 1:9-11, God’s blessing comes through obedience to His written Word. So how can people expect God blessing when they actively oppose what is clearly taught in the Bible?

 

Application: In what areas are you compromising your integrity and calling? What lies have you believed? In what ways are you attempting to make deals with God?

There is grace, forgiveness, and blessing as we submit ourselves in obedience to God. And having experienced God’s grace, forgiveness and blessing, we can — and should — extend grace and forgiveness to others who live in disobedience, helping them to line up their lives with God’s plumb line.

 

Grace and …

We come to Acts 15 and find a group of believers who felt that grace wasn’t enough to save someone. They said that you must be circumcised in order to be saved.

This was a great concern to Paul and Barnabus, as well as the other disciples. After praying about the matter, the apostles decided that grace was enough; the brothers from Judea were wrong in requiring Gentiles to become Jews to be considered Christians.

What do you consider is required to be a “good Christian”? Church attendance? Baptism? Adherence to a code of conduct (prohibition of dancing, drinking, etc.)? Being a member of a particular denomination (or non-denomination)? Holding a particular theological position? Aligning with the teachings of specific group of teachers, preachers, writers, or denominational leaders? Aversion to the teachings of specific group of teachers, preachers, writers, or denominational leaders?

 

Application: Be careful. Be very careful as you view other believers through your personal preferences. Be careful what labels (“liberal”, “fundamentalist”, and especially “false prophet” and “heretic”) you apply to someone with whom you disagree. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Col 4:6 (NIV)

 

The Importance of the Covenant of Marriage

I just watched a great discussion on the importance of the covenant of marriage. It reminded me of a conversation I had between the time when Amy and I got engaged and married. My youth Sunday School teacher said that there would be times when you have to be committed to the marriage, as opposed to each other. I didn’t understand her statement. But through the years, I have come to understand what she was talking about.

The video is just over five minutes and well worth the time to watch.

 

 

What sustains the marital bond and affections over the long haul? Three men with a combined 116 years of marriage reflect on what they’ve learned from God’s Word and others along with their experience.

Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper offer insight on falling in love again and again and the ground of covenant in which the flower of love grows. In marriage, man and woman change but their promise does not, sustained by the God who enacted his covenant between Christ and the church.

 

From Suffering a Little While to Eternal Glory

“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9–10 ESV).

Many in Peter’s day were experiencing a great deal of suffering. The attacks on the church were delivered through the hands of the Jewish leaders and the Romans by their adversary, the devil and his demonic troops. Peter encourages his readers to be steadfast in their commitment to their Lord by humbling themselves and casting their anxieties on Him because He deeply cares about them (5:6-7).

Peter doesn’t deny that they were suffering. He didn’t tell them that they were suffering because they lacked faith. He simply acknowledged that they were, indeed suffering for a little while. It’s beautiful how he contrasts their suffering for a “little while” with God’s “eternal” glory in Christ. The all gracious God would not not send just anyone to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish them — He Himself would do it.

 

Application: Are you anxious? Do you feel that God doesn’t care about you or your situation? Do you feel that you are suffering for your stand for Christ? Do you need grace? Take courage! Your hardship is only for a little while. The all-seeing, all-powerful, all-loving, all-gracious God cares deeply for you. Cast (literally “throw”) your cares onto Him, knowing that as you do, He will never let you be ultimately shaken. (Psalm 54:23)

 

Did They Really?

I happened upon an interesting blog today: “They Ceased. Period.” It was an interview with Dr. John MacArthur regarding the “charismatic” gifts of the spirit. MacArthur is a cessationist, meaning that he believes that gifts of healing, miracles, tongues, etc. passed away with the First Century Apostles.

While I respect Dr. MacArthur’s diligent grammatical study of “stilled” in 1Cor 13:8, he completely ignores the context of the grammar in light of the surrounding sentences. In other words, he centers his entire argument on one word and its grammatical usage, ignoring the fact that words have meaning in the context of sentences. 1Corinthians 13:9-12 says that we do not fully know yet, and until we get to that time, we will still need God’s gifts of grace.

MacArthur says,

“If [charismatic] gifts existed, they would belong to the purest, most faithful, sound teachers of the Word of God to authenticate their teaching…”

Is he actually saying that the “orthodox” preachers today (presumably, MacArthur himself) would be more deserving of God’s gifts of grace than the Charismatic Prosperity Gospel Preachers (eg., Benny Hinn)? Doesn’t that turn “grace” on its head? Besides, I don’t think the main purpose of the sign gifts was to “authenticate” the apostles’ teaching, anyway.

Yes, absolutely, there are excesses. Their existence cannot be denied. However, the existence of excesses doesn’t deny their validity. In other words, the misuse of a gift doesn’t mean the gift doesn’t exist. And one’s theology, however straight or deviant, neither affirms nor denies the validity of a gift.

I think Jack Deere has done a fine job of establishing a continuance view (as opposed to a cessationist view) of the charismatic gifts in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan 1993) and Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan 1996). Dr. Deere was a professor at Dallas Seminary, a bastion of cessationist theology, who wasn’t looking for a charismatic experience, but was confronted by a God Who still speaks and acts — it forever changed his life and the way he understood God. Deere is no “wacko” Bible teacher; endorsements from Wayne Grudem, professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, appear on both of Deere’s books. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in the topic.

Cessationists like MacArthur seem to believe that, if the charismatic gifts existed, they would appear in their churches, and since the gifts don’t appear in their churches, those gifts don’t exist — therefore any appearance elsewhere must be counterfeit. We must be very careful in labeling all “miraculous” works” as “counterfeit”. Counterfeit means fake, thus its origin is not from God. If something is not from God, it is either from man or the devil. Compare that with Jesus warning in Matt 12:31-32 where the Pharisees were attributing Jesus’ works to the devil.