Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune and Amazing Grace International, Inc.

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Because of the Resurrection

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 3:19).

You don’t get very far in the Gospels without reading about demons. They were (are) horrid creatures intent on destroying lives. They caused people to lose all inhibitions, reject normalcy, spit in the face of convention, frighten and threaten others with impunity and hurt themselves physically. No one wanted a demon, and no one wanted to be around anyone who had one. If you had a demon, what you really wanted was for someone to put you out of your misery.

Though the Gospels do not elaborate, Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven of these creatures. I can’t imagine her pain. But Jesus cast them out (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9) and for that, Mary would be forever grateful. She traveled with the disciples and supported them out of her own pocket. On Friday she stood with Jesus’ mother at the cross. On Sunday, she was there at the grave. The man who had given her life back was gone – murdered! What anger she must have felt that Sunday morning! What emptiness! What lostness! Everything was meaningless.

But not quite.

While mourning the death of her savior and the cruel (seeming) theft of his body (or so it seemed), Jesus appeared. She was so lost in the abyss of her own grief she didn’t even recognize him until he said her name: “Mary!” And then, her life was changed again. Weeping had filled her night, but joy had come in the morning.

It’s tempting when life tumbles in to give in to the same despair of Solomon: “Everything is meaningless.” But Solomon was wrong. The resurrected Lord assures us none of our afflictions have to have the last word. Perhaps that’s why Paul called them “light” and “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17). There is the resurrection. And once that becomes real to you, life is anything but meaningless.

Experiencing the Love of God

She [Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me (Genesis 16:13).

In a series of lessons on “Loving the Lord’s Way” I recently told the story of Hagar to illustrate God’s love. Hagar is significant.  Though a slave in the household of Abraham, she nonetheless is the only person in the Old Testament to give God a name — and she does it on the basis of her experience with God’s love.

My first point  was that before the Bible ever uses the term “love” to refer to something God does, God acts in a loving way. He does it by seeing people in their distress taking note of it, and acting in caring ways toward them to relieve their pain. Notice that Hagar was not of God’s family. She was an Egyptian, and a slave. But God had his eye on her and showed love to her. It was but the merest foretaste of His love to come.

The second point was that if God calls us to love others as He has loved us – and He has – we must begin with His example: to see people in their distress, take note of it, and act as we can to relieve their suffering.

But there is a third point.

People come to know God’s love by seeing it in us first. It will do no good to talk about God’s love if we will not show it. Until then, it’s just talk.  The talk becomes real to others in our actions.

Spiritual but not Saved. Saved but not Spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

If you are not a Christian, can you understand God’s word? Based on this text, some would say “no.”

It is a good example of why context is so important for correct biblical interpretation.

Paul was not speaking hypothetically. He was talking about his readers. They had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” called into the fellowship of Christ, and had the Spirit of God. They were not, however, “spiritual.” Paul said they were still “people of the flesh” – just “human.” He made his judgment on the basis of how they were acting. Jealousy, strife, arrogance, and division characterized their lives. Because they “thought” like worldly people, and not like God, they acted like worldly people and had difficulty understanding what Paul had told them and what he was writing to them. Our verse was a rebuke of his Christian readers. That is the context.

This leads us to some important observations: First, “spirituality” has to do with how one thinks and the direction of life. Second, it is possible to be spiritual, but not be saved. Cornelius in Acts 10 is a prime example. He had a mind and heart for God, expressed in the way he lived, but he was still unsaved. Because he was spiritual, when he learned what God wanted him to do to be saved, he did it. Third, it is possible to be a Christian and not be spiritual. When our thinking, our views, more mirror those of the world than God, we are unspiritual, worldly, human, carnal, and have difficulty understanding what God wants of us. The Corinthian church is a prime example.

In another letter Paul urged his readers to set their minds on things that are “above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Context is critical, but our ability to understand Scripture also depends on the nature of our thinking.

Listening

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear . . . (James 1:19).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).

I thought of these two passages recently while reading The Boys, a memoir by Ron and Clint Howard. You remember Ron, surely. He played little Opie on television’s Andy Griffith show (ok, some of you aren’t old enough to remember that show – look up an episode on YouTube).

Ron began playing Opie when he was just shy of six years old. I always liked that show (still do). In fact, some years ago a friend and I were at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures with an afternoon free. I said: “Let’s find that pond that opens the Andy Griffith show.” So we looked it up and drove over to Franklin Canyon Park in (believe it or not) Beverly Hills.

Early in the first year, the script required Opie to deliver a particular line to Andy. Before shooting, little inexperienced Ron raised his hand to ask a question. When called on, he said he didn’t think his line sounded “kid-like.” Everybody stopped. Director Bob Sweeny said: “How do you think a child would say it?” Ron replied and Sweeny said: “Good. I like it. Say it that way instead.”

The whole thing was (obviously) memorable for Ron. He writes: “My appreciation for how seriously I was taken, as a human being with ideas and agency . . . has only deepened with time.”

Not all of “Opie’s” suggestions were taken in the years following, but he felt “listened to” and valued. Everyone, including a child, deserves to feel heard. God’s people, in honoring one another, must work to affirm the value of others by listening to one another. The wise person understands you never know when a good idea might crop up, or who it might crop up from!

Waiting

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

Ed Harrell died March 15. For over thirty years he was a distinguished professor of History at the University of Alabama and Auburn University. More importantly (to me), he was a gospel preacher. He wrote the following in Christianity Magazine in 1986 (Vol. 3, #4)

It occurs to me that much of life has to do with waiting.

When I was a teenager, my physician father would pack me off every summer to work on our farm in South Georgia. For three months each year, I did brutal tobacco field labor in one of the most ferocious summer climates in the world. My father was not really trying to teach me a lesson (what I did was a piece of his own life experience), but he did teach me several.

I have often tried to reconstruct my thoughts during the sultry evenings when I lay exhausted on the wooden floors of our farm shanties. I think I was just waiting. I knew the torture that lay ahead in the fields the next day, and week, and month. But I steeled myself to grit it out; I could wait; this would not last forever.

I have waited many times since. I waited while in the Navy and I waited through graduate school. My wife, so she tells me, waited through a series of pregnancies.

All Christians understand that life is a wait. We know that we are “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth (Hebrews 11:13). But too often we forget that we are waiting, thinking rather that we are living. Near the end of his long life, the seventeenth-century Puritan preacher, Increase Mather, received a letter from a friend asking if he was “still in the land of the living.” “No,” he replied, “I am in the land of the dying. I am going to the land of the living.”

If we fail to grasp the transient nature of life, it will throw old age out of perspective. Being old then becomes a discontinuity with the rest of life, instead of being the culmination of our existence. On the other hand, if we know that all of life is waiting, then we come to the end of it more yieldingly.

And so, if you come to visit me when I have become aged and gnarled, and I look upon you with blank and clouded eyes, do not, I ask, regard me with pity or pathos. I shall just be waiting. I have done it before and I am tough enough to do it again. If, by God’s grace, I can still think, I shall have my mind fastened on the object of my long wait. If it is my lot to face the final days without reason, I pray that my body will be so conditioned to waiting that it will do so gently. But, whatever the case, like all waits, this one too will pass and I shall be on my way to what is next.”

Kindness

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . (Colossians 3:12).

Isaac Litton by Phil Ponder.jpg.jpg

Opened in 1930, Isaac Litton was an iconic high school on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. In the course of its 41 year history it was at times a football powerhouse, but was most often known as the home of a 100+ member marching band.  I come across “Litton” grads often in my travels.  My mother attended there.  By the time I came along they had added a Junior High which I attended briefly in the 9th grade. Every graduate I’ve ever talked to spoke glowingly of their time there. My mother treasured her class ring all her life. The school has now been closed for nearly half a century.

Recently, on a social media page devoted to my own high school (Madison) someone wrote asking if anyone had any memorabilia from “Litton” (the schools were rivals but not that far apart). It would seem his grandfather graduated from there in 1955 and he was looking for an Isaac Litton pennant from his grandfather’s time to remember him by.

I was surprised when, in reading the responses, a woman wrote: “Your grandfather was in my class. I was a cheerleader then and I have some things. I will look to see if a pennant is among them. He was a great guy and a special friend.”

Graduating in 1955 would put the woman in her 80’s. She’s kept memorabilia from her high school days because they were precious to her, but she was willing to share her treasure with someone she didn’t know.

I thought: “That’s a kindness. To give something you value to bless the life of another.” It’s what God did. It’s what Jesus did. And while anyone can show a kindness, kindness is a necessary identifying marker of a follower of Jesus.

Azazel

And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel (Leviticus 16:8).

The tenth day of the seventh month of Israel’s year was the “Day of Atonement.” On that day, and that day alone, the High Priest of Israel would sacrifice a bull for his own sins and a goat for the sins of the people. The blood of both sacrifices would be brought into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and sprinkled before the Lord. Then, he would take another goat (the one for “Azazel”), place his hands on it and confess the sins of the people. That goat would then be let go into the wilderness. This was the imagery: one goat paid the price for sin. The other took the sins away when he was let loose..

Most modern translations call this latter goat the one for “Azazel.” The problem is, we don’t know what “Azazel” was. Since we don’t really know the meaning of the word, modern translators leave it alone – you have a Hebrew word expressed in English letters. But if you look in older translations, you’ll see it translated “scapegoat.”

A scapegoat is one who bears another’s blame. Regardless of the meaning of “Azazel,” that’s really what the goat was.

When you come to the New Testament, Jesus is both goats. It is his own blood that paid the price for our sins (the atonement – Hebrews 2:17) and it is he who bears our sins outside the camp (Hebrews 13:11-14). He is our Azazel. He is our “scapegoat.”
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood.
Sealed my pardon with His blood
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

The God Who Saves

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The gods of antiquity had little feeling for mankind. They were considered powerful, and possibly helpful — but getting their aid was another story (more dependent on buying it, or cajoling them into helping, than on their natural compassion and feeling for humankind). If the gods were angry with you, you needed a way to soothe their temper.

You could try to court their favor with a sacrifice. It might work.

But Christianity turned all that around.

In the first place, the God of scripture always felt the same toward mankind. He never changed. He always loved humanity. Though sin made God angry, and might distance humans from the Lord, it did not separate them from His love. It only affected the way he acted toward them.

Ancient people would have searched for an appropriate sacrifice to somehow calm God’s wrath. But there was no sacrifice that would work – and that brings us to the second difference between Christianity and the religions of the ancient world: our Lord solved the problem Himself. John Stott once put it like this: “God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it Himself in His own son when he took our place and died for us.”

In his book, Search for Salvation David Wells puts it this way: “Man is alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from man by wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath averted so that God can look on man without displeasure and man can look on God without fear.”

The Straight(er) Path

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

My first attempt at plumbing was a disaster. What my father-in-law assured me was an easy thirty-minute job (installing a garbage disposal) took all day – and several trips to the plumbing supply house and untold frustration. The reason he thought it was an easy thirty-minute job was that he had already done it – several times over the years – and knew how and what to expect. I knew neither.

It wasn’t just Roy’s personal experience that made the task seem easy. He also had a good teacher. As a young man Roy undertook to build a house. When it came to plumbing (something he knew nothing about at the time), his wife’s uncle (an experienced plumber) came and spent a week helping him. Without that help, the house might never have been finished.

The wise person recognizes his (her) limitations and brings in help. When it comes to the affairs of life, Solomon wrote that wisdom (knowledge that comes from experience) begins with consulting God. In fact, the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs begins and ends with the note that wisdom starts with God. And in the New Testament, James wrote: “If you lack wisdom, ask God.”

What does all this have to do with plumbing? Perhaps nothing. On the other hand, prayer that God might open my eyes to my own limitations would have been a good idea. Prayer that God might make me humble enough to ask for direction and help couldn’t hurt either, followed up with prayer that God might give me a receptive heart to instruction.

The result might have been a thirty minute job rather than one that took all day. Or, in the words of Solomon, a straighter path.

Disciple: Traveler or Tourist?

[Paul and Barnabas] preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts 14:21-22)

Do you know the difference between a traveler and a tourist? In his book Your Church Is Too Safe Mark Buchanan notes that a traveler literally means “one who travails.” He labors, suffers, endures. A traveler immerses himself in a culture, learns the language and customs, lives with the locals, imitates the dress, eats what’s set before him. He takes risks, some enormous, and makes sacrifices, some extravagant. He has tight scrapes and narrow escapes. He is gone a long time. If he ever returns, he returns forever altered.

A tourist – not so. Tourist means, literally, “one who goes in circles.” He’s just taking an exotic detour home, He’s only passing through, sampling wares, acquiring souvenirs. He tastes more than eats what’s put before him. He retreats each night to what’s safe and familiar. He spectates and consumes. He returns to where he’s come from with an album of photos, a few mementos, a cheap hat. He’s happy to be back. He declares there’s no place like home.

As a disciple of Christ, are you a traveler or a tourist? The tourist samples the Christian life, but is not changed by it – always returning to what is familiar and comfortable. The “travailer” disciple knows he’s never been home yet. The “travailer” (in Buchanan’s words) “loses her life in order to find it. She steeps in the language and culture of Christ until his word and his world reshape hers, redefines hers, changes inside and out how she sees, and thinks, and dreams and finally, lives . . . ”

All that can be more than a bit uncomfortable of course – painful even – yet, remembering the words of Paul and Barnabas, it is absolutely necessary to discipleship.