Stuck in the middle

There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. Two sides of the fence. There are two sides to many things and we use a lot of them as analogies and, more often than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle—neither one side nor the other.

There are some that would say building the Kingdom of God is nothing but hard work. Work. Work. Work. And then more work. Others may say that we just have to wait on God. He’ll to it all for us. Like the coin, the story, and the fence, the truth is stuck somewhere in the middle.

Building the Kingdom of God using brute strength alone will only build something that can crumble. Nothing man makes on his own will ever be eternal.

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 4:6b (NLT)

Yet, we cannot just sit on our rear ends and do nothing, expecting the Holy Spirit to do it all for us.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

God cannot work through us unless there is work to work through. He needs our hands and our feet to accomplish His will on this earth. Sometimes that means getting dirty and maybe even sweaty. But we don’t have to do it all on our own.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

It is not within God’s nature to start a job and leave it unfinished. If He has called you to a work, He will be with you, helping you, until the work is finished.

What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

Matthew Henry

So, don’t get stuck on one side or the other. Find that middle ground between work and the Spirit. There is no better place to be than stuck in the middle with God.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 4-6, Revelation 18

 

Don’t shoot the messenger

We all have people in our lives that we’d rather not have in our lives. An annoying coworker. A nosy neighbour. That weird uncle that only shows up at holidays. We avoid these people at all costs and even begrudge them when something good happens in their lives. We hold on to our dislike—hate even—like a security blanket. So long as that person keeps doing the things we dislike, we can grip our sense of superiority over them.

Jonah experienced a similar feeling when God brought him to a certain city in a rather roundabout way. Jonah finally made it to the city of Nineveh by way of fish. It probably wasn’t the most popular mode of transportation in his day, but it did the trick. Jonah was finally where God told him to be—surrounded by people he didn’t like. Not only did he have to be there, he had to share a certain message.

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Jonah 3:4 (NLT)

Still believing himself to be above the people in the city, Jonah shared his message with a great sense of satisfaction and then found a prime spot to watch the promised destruction. Yet that destruction would never come. Because, in spite of his hatred for the people of Nineveh, they had received and embraced his message.

The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.

Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

I doubt this was the response Jonah was expecting. In a city he hated, Jonah was forced to watch as his reluctant message was acted upon. Repentance ran rampant.

What all the saints make a matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it.

Matthew Henry

The account of Jonah is not merely a story of delayed obedience. It is a story of attitude, of mercy, of grace. And it is an account that show us that, even if our attitudes do not reflect our message, God can still work in the hearts of even the greatest sinners. But, unlike Jonah, when our message is received, our hearts should rejoice along with those who have received the gift of grace.

It is the neighbour we like the least that needs the most love. Hesitation on our part to share the Gospel is like shooting the messenger before he even has a chance to tell his story. We do ourselves and our neighbour a disservice by holding on to our hatred and dislike. We want to show our superiority while God wants to show His grace.

Immediate obedience to God’s instruction is far easier on our egos than waiting until the last possible moment.  Let us share in the glory of God’s grace rather than hoarding our own personal comfort.

Daily Bible reading: Jonah 1-4, Revelation 9

Tear your heart out

Hearing stories of the war and destruction that make up a lot of the Old Testament, many people who don’t know God are eager to paint Him as a tyrant. A big bully who destroyed entire nations (and even the earth once) on a whim. What they fail to see are the dire warnings that preceded all of that. Every time. Before death and destruction came warnings from men of God pleading with the nations to turn from their wicked ways and return to the Lord. God wanted to show mercy, but because man always seems to know better…

That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is still time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; tear your hearts.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you.

Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)

Does that sound like a tyrant to you? If God is eager not to punish you, why then do we make him the villain of the story?

Because we don’t want to have to name the real villain. You. Me.

If God is truly gracious and merciful like He says He is, that would mean that we are the true bullies. We taunt God with our hearts and our love and then withhold them from Him. Put yourself in His place. You’ve created something so that you’d have companionship. You give that creation free will so that they will love you because they want to, not because they have to. You give them everything they could possibly need. And yet they still turn away from you. Again. And again. You must punish their evil deeds, but you don’t really want to, so you give a warning. And another warning. All with the hope that they will turn back to you and you won’t have to punish them. They come back for a little while. And then they leave again.

Be honest, how many opportunities would you give your creation to return?

God has given us infinite opportunities to return to Him. He doesn’t want to punish us. He wants to love us. He wants to shower us with His grace and mercy, but we have to put ourselves in a position to receive it.

We must tear our hearts. Our minds and our attitudes must be changed, our old patterns destroyed and replaced with a new way of thinking. Until we rend our old, stony hearts and allow God to replace that ugly mess, we cannot expect to experience all the goodness that He has planned for us.

So don’t be afraid to tear your heart out because God has a new one waiting for you.

Daily Bible reading: Joel 1-3, Revelation 4

The same

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)

No matter what translation you read, this verse is pretty much exactly the same in every one. The Amplified adds Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same. The word same means just that. The same. Never changing. Unaltered. Never different. That is our Savior.

Think about that for a moment. The message that Jesus taught while he walked the earth is still valid today. Just because the world has changed and humanity has changed, doesn’t mean the Gospel changes.

So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes from God’s special favor…

Hebrews 13:9b (NLT)

Too often, we try to complicate the message of Jesus. It can get watered down or it can be altered to seem more appealing. But the true message of Jesus can get lost in all the things we try to do to it. If Jesus never, ever changes,why do we try to change his word? If Jesus appealed to the masses two thousand years ago what makes us think that he won’t appeal the crowds now?

We have not been called to make the message of the Gospel appealing. We’ve been called simply to share it.

And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him.

Hebrews 13:20 (NLT)

God is most please with us when we do His will His way, and He has already given us all we need to accomplish it. We don’t need to try to make up new stories or rules or ways of doing things. Jesus already set the standard and, since he never changes, why would we try to change his message?

Jesus ministered to anyone and everyone with grace and love. We should do the same.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 17-19, Hebrews 13

What is faith?

As Christians, we talk about faith. A lot. It is our belief system. It is the basis on which we live our lives. It is our calling. It is many things. We know that just a small amount—the measure of a mustard seed—can move a mountain. It can heal the sick and open blind eyes. Faith can raise the dead. But how many of us can accurately define faith?

Let’s go the the old standby in Hebrews:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I once heard a pastor say that grace is God’s grip on us and faith is our grip on God. According to Noah Webster, her statement was more than just something to be typed on a meme and posted to social media.

The sense of the verb is to strain, to draw, and thus to bind or make fast. A rope or cable is that which makes fast.

Our faith, combined with God’s grace, brings us or draws us toward God and binds us to Him. Without faith, we have no grip whatsoever. Grace alone is not enough. It is not the binding agent, faith is.

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

FAITH: That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

When we are called upon to use our faith, our belief should not be in the desired outcome, but in the One who can bring it to pass. We must remember that faith goes beyond a little prayer and a hope. Faith is what binds us to God. It draws us closer to Him. It brings us to obedience to His Word and puts in line with His will. It is our judgement that what God has stated is the truth. And, if He promised it, He will perform it.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Uncommon and holy

You may have heard of a message of grace. Not just grace to cover sin when you first approach God in repentance, but a message of a grace that means you can live however you like and God will have to forgive you no matter what. Some may call it hyper-grace.

The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.

(Source)

To live a life under hyper-grace, means that, while one may accept salvation through Christ, they do not accept his teachings nor do they experience any real change in their life because of Jesus.

It’s a sad truth that there are many who profess Christianity live in what they believe to be grace, but it’s nothing more than self-condemnation. They devalue the sacrifice and blood of Jesus by expecting that God must forgive them no matter what—without ever having to come to Him in repentance.

Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NLT)

Imagine a kid who comes home after having found a mud pit. The child approaches his parents with remorse because he knows that he cannot go into the house in his current state. Since his parents hadn’t yet addressed the repercussions of playing in the mud, they clean him off, put him in new clothes and bring him into the house. The next time they send him out to play, he is reminded to stay away from the mud. But that’s exactly where he goes. Once more, Mom and Dad clean him off, give him clean clothes and bring him inside. But once this happens a few more times, Mom and Dad aren’t so forgiving. Yet the kid only sees that he’s going to get cleaned up no matter what. Soon, he feels no remorse over his disobedience and simply expects that Mom and Dad will clean him up and dress him so that he can go inside. As the parents, how long will you allow this behavior? I doubt it wouldn’t be more than two or three muddy returns before the child is punished. Yet we should expect that God simply smile, shake His head, and immediately forgive us of far worse over and over and over again?

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins.

Hebrews 10:26 (NLT)

Do we slip and fall and get ourselves dirty? Yes, of course we do. And God is faithful to help us up and dust us off. But to keep on deliberately sinning is ignorant and insulting to all that He has done for us. God has called us out of the muck (Psalm 40:2). He has called us to live pure, clean lives. It is to our benefit as well as those around us.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (NLT)

Grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card to be played whenever we get ourselves in trouble, but rather a gift that should be treated with awe and reverence. We should be doing all that we can to remain under the cover of grace and to pull others into its shelter.

Grace is not common and unholy, but rather uncommon and holy.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 10:24-39

Dare to hope

As humans, we suffer. There are generally two kinds of suffering, the first being the sort that we have no control over—sickness, accidents, death. The second is of our own doing—suffering from the consequences of our actions.

It is the latter sort that the people of Jerusalem were suffering when Jeremiah penned these words:

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.

Lamentations 3:21-26 (NLT)

These words, from a book titled Lamentations no less, seem incongruent with what was going on at the time. Jerusalem had been warned over and over again to repent from their sins or the city would be destroyed and the people would either die, starve, or be taken captive. Yet over and over again, Israel refused to repent of their sins and went about their own thing anyway. We find Jeremiah here at the time when all the prophecies of destruction were coming to pass. How is it then, that he can still say that he dares to hope? When mothers are killing and eating their children? When princes look like walking corpses? Where is the hope in that?

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you will turn it into a blessing.

William Law

Amidst all of the pain and suffering brought on by sins of the people, Jeremiah remembered this:

Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion according to the greatness of his unfailing love.

Lamentations 3:32 (NLT)

Jesus once told a story that held similar principles. The prodigal son lived the way that he saw fit. He was forced to suffer and endure the consequences of his sin, but when he came home in repentance, love and compassion met him.

Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:40 (NLT)

Even in the middle of our consequences, we can still dare to hope. Because God is still God and He never changes. He loved us before we sinned. He loved us while we sinned. And He still loves us when we repent from our sin.

So if you’re in the middle, dare to hope because the unfailing love of the Lord never ends!

Daily Bible reading: Lamentations 3-5, Hebrews 8