28. Childlike Confidence

Grace Short Meditations: 28. Childlike Confidence 

Heb 4:16 “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Mercy is undeserved forgiveness. Grace is undeserved resources to help carry us through “our time of need”. When is that? Every day! Some days more, some days less. One of the things I find constantly coming through in this month thinking about grace is ‘need’.  We live in a fallen world where things go wrong. Yes, that’s certainly one very real side of it but living in the twenty-first century in the West is complex and often demanding. If we had lived a hundred years ago in many ways it would be more simple but also harder. In some ways we need less grace to live today while in other ways our very prosperity and affluence demands we be busier and more active. Until, that is, a Pandemic comes along at shuts us in! But that in itself demands more grace, more resourcing to cope.

At a physical level we need health and strength. At a mental level we need peace of mind. At an emotional level we need freedom from anxiety and fear. At a spiritual level we need to Spirit to continue to energize us and draw us close to the Lord. Needs!

Next door’s unbeliever says, “I don’t need your God. I have food and clothing, I eat wisely and take exercise, I set myself targets of learning or activities within the home, I stay out of harm’s way, will be getting vaccine to protect me, I can cope.” But as I watch, it all sounds a little hollow. I look around and see who is it who is truly at peace and I observe those who daily approach the throne of grace and are resourced with this thing called ‘grace’ that seems to flow in them creating a serenity, a peacefulness, a contentment, an ability to look death in the eye and say, “Only when He says so! Go away.”

I watch and see those who are running their businesses from home, who are taken up with home schooling while schools are closed, who manage ‘life from a distance’, purchasing by Internet and so much more, so ably – apparently. And yet, every now and then, the mask slips and the truth is not so comfortable.

Jesus spoke about ‘life’ and ‘life in abundance’, a quality of experience that goes beyond activity. There are those who seek to create their own form of ‘life’ by having ‘experiences’ but when they are alone, reality threatens to set in and is pushed away with dreams of the ‘next experience’.  ‘Kidding yourself’ is the expression that applies to many. Outward appearances can be deceiving. Jesus looks beyond the outward appearance and knows the reality. Without receiving this thing called grace, we are mere pretenders. Let’s not be that.      

Realise how much He loves you and the wonder of His grace He keeps pouring out for you.  Imagine you are a little child and go running into the throne room and leap on to His lap screaming, “Daddy!” That is the confidence the Hebrews writer talks about. Hang on to that! Believe it. That is the fruit of grace. That is what grace is all about. Hallelujah!  

27. Planned Grace

Grace Short Meditations: 27. Planned Grace 

2 Tim 1:9 “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” 

I can’t help but find myself drifting back to what I find a most amazing truth revealed in the New Testament, that all this salvation of ours was planned by the Godhead before they ever created anything. (Jn 17:24, Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2). Yes, seven times in the New Testament this same truth is expressed in different ways.

Let’s imagine a quick glimpse into the throne room of heaven before time began. Father to Son: “Look Son, see how the plan works out. Oh look, do you see her? See how she responds to Spirit here calling her. Isn’t that beautiful! Just like a little child she responds and then, watch, Spirit she allows you to fill her. Isn’t that lovely, doesn’t that make it all worthwhile!”  Advance light years and in heaven they are rejoicing that that which was planned back then is working out so well.  “Son, we’d better go to the front door to welcome her, it won’t be too many of their years before she arrives home. Spirit, just keep being there for her, our grace will hold her, she’ll make it. Great! Isn’t she wonderful!”

OK, imagination, but the truth is there. They – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – expressed themselves in a plan to create a world with sentient beings, what we call human beings, with free will, in their image.

But then came the recognition that free will meant choice to reject their perfect design with all the consequences that would follow, especially guilt. God knew the only way for justice to deal with it was through the Cross and, as He looked into the future, He knew that we would be responders, and He could lead us back onto a path of recovering all the good He had planned from the beginning.

Love gives without limit and so the forgiveness that was needed would have to be free. It may not be experienced until appropriated, but it was freely given, available to be received. The power to energize new lives would be freely given, it could be no other way for these struggling sinners had no power of their own. Adoption as children of God would have to be free for these confused-identity sinners would be lost, wandering, perplexed, hopeless, nomads of the world with nowhere to call home. Yes, every aspect of this recovery project would have to be freely given because once the consequences of free-will running amok came into being it would trap these humans in a cage of their own making and however much they struggled and worked they could never get free on their own. No, everything about this plan had to be freely given – and that is what it was – grace given us in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah!

26. Encouraging Grace

Grace Short Meditations: 26. Encouraging Grace 

 2 Thess 2:16 God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope.”

I have watched over the years two extreme Christians. First there is the ‘ever-joyful’, the ‘ever-triumphant’ who seem to live on a cloud of euphoria yet sadly being quite unreal about their fragile state. They need to hold on to that euphoria to cover up the fragility of their faith that has never been deeply thought through or prayed through. Lovely people, but fragile. And then on the other extreme there are those from Winnie the Pooh stories who are the Eeyore’s of this world, ever gloomy. And yet there are some in that group who are better described as the Puddle Glums of C.S.Lewis’s Narnia story, always sounding down yet somehow coming through to the good. These extreme characterizations point us to a truth: we live in a fallen world and we frequently need encouraging.

Let’s be honest, there are days when the sun isn’t shining and the day ahead looks bleak and you feel rubbish. We’re all part of the “Dull Bleak Rubbish Day Club” at some time or other, but today’s verse reminds us that God is in the business of bringing us encouragement that will go on and on and on.

Listening in the quiet time is often a favourite subject and part of the learning programme is learning not to reject the words you hear but can’t believe: “Good morning wonderful daughter,” or “Son you are really doing well. I’ve watched how the enemy has come against you and I’ve been thrilled by the way you persevered,” and “Child, I have been watching over you and been so blessed how you’ve grown.” Believe it! It is true, His words to you.

1 John 2:12-14 is a lovely part of John’s writing that is all about him encouraging his readers. To his ‘children’, young believers who he reminds are living lives of forgiveness, to ‘fathers’, older more mature believers, who encountered Jesus early in their lives and have walked with him for many years, to ‘young men’, those no longer mere babes but in the warrior years of their lives, who hold a land taken from the enemy.  All these reminders come as encouragements, all different expressions of grace. He runs the ground again: young believers, remember the wonder of knowing the Father; mature believers, rejoice in the wonder of the Faithful One who you’ve known as unchanging throughout the years; young warriors rejoice in the strength He has given you, His word that lives in you, and your position of overcomers. How lovely is that: encouragement that reminds us of the truth of who we are and what Christ has brought us to. Encouragement – cheer, reassurance, inspiration – all forms of grace. Be an encourager.  

25. Expecting Grace?

Grace Short Meditations: 25. Expecting Grace? 

Eph 2:7 “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” 

In yesterday’s study I sought to get us to think at a very basic level that, just to live on a daily basis, let alone go to work perhaps, we all exercise a whole variety of abilities that we didn’t have when we were aged two. We’ve grown, we’ve developed, we’ve matured and so we take it for granted that we can find our way round town, perhaps read maps, certain read articles or books with some understanding, watch TV documentaries and make sense of them, all things we take for granted but which are part of the package called ‘grace’ that God sends us in our lives.

Do you ever send away for stuff through the post?  It has been a common occupation during the Pandemic when it is easier to go online and purchase something instead of going into town and spending hours looking for it. But something I’ve found recently is that these days you can often track your purchase. (I am watching something coming from China!!!! The other week we watched on the tracker our purchase getting nearer and nearer across the district for half an hour. Amazing!)  But there is the anticipation of the thing arriving. We didn’t need to but it was fun tracking our item coming nearer and nearer, with the anticipation of, “Look they’re delivering in the next road, they’ll be here soon, and then comes the ring of the doorbell. It Has arrived! Anticipation!

Now I have a message from God for you. “I have a nice surprise for you that is coming.”  What????? That’s right, it’s coming from His ‘Jesus kindness’ warehouse. Jesus has paid for it and it will arrive just when you need it. Don’t worry there’s nothing to pay.  What is it? Oh, grace of course.  

Can we see grace like this perhaps? Our problem is that we fail to realize that God is more eager to give to us what we need than we are to ask. Do you know, I believe God delights in giving us the small things regularly when He knows that some of the big things need time and maybe even aren’t the right thing for us. We have to trust that He knows what to bring and when, as well as what NOT to bring. A silly small example. I don’t know if it is simply how He has made the body to work or whether it is Him specifically interacting with me – both are grace – but it is beyond coincidence the number of times I have woken in the morning looked at the clock and prayed, “Lord this is too early can you have me another half hour please?” and to the minute, thirty minutes later I wake up again. Whichever way you look at it – grace- and I am thankful.  Think little, think big. Be thankful.

24. Gifted

Grace Short Meditations: 24. Gifted! 

Rom 12:6 “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” 

“Oh, I’m not creative, I can’t paint or draw or make pottery, I can’t sculpt, I can’t write poetry, I can’t write, I can’t…..” In such ways we deny our creativity, but we are made in the image of a Creator God and in one sense everything that flows from Him to us is a creative expression, something new for the moment, something that wasn’t there ten minutes ago, just its potential.

Supposing I said to you, I want you in the course of this coming day to create a short story for a child say or, perhaps easier, an illustration of, say, how good people can be to one another. It may take you a few seconds, a few minutes or even an hour, but you could do it and when you do it, something exists in your mind (or you might even have written it down), something that wasn’t there yesterday, something that you created. Cook a meal – creativity. Paint a wall – creativity. Ring someone up to encourage them – creativity. Pause and thank God for all the good things you can think of – creativity.

Calling all those who have listened to a snide, mean whisper, “You’re rubbish, you’re useless, you can’t do anything right, God doesn’t love you or care about you.” It’s time to write a “Lies Demolition List”!  The only problem, if you have listened to those lies for so long, is you might need help in facing the truth about yourself. If you can do it on your own, so come on, write a list of about ten gifts or abilities you have. Paul was talking about spiritual gifts but actually all gifts and abilities count. If you have trouble, phone a friend and tell them you want help and you’ll ring back in half an hour to give them time to think. Don’t be embarrassed, just rejoice at God’s goodness, God’s grace – and give thanks. You DO have gifts and abilities. We need to keep pressing in on this one. Do you have things held all over your fridge by fridge magnets? You probably take it for granted but you are exercising your ability to think, to act, to plan. Do you have a notice board in your kitchen you put things on? You may be struggling to deny there is anything creative about that, but you are exercising very simple gifts or abilities even just making it. Have you ever cut up magazines and made a collage? Try it some time, simple creativity for no reason other than you can.  You have a job or a career? You are laden with talent even if you take it for granted. Someone with dementia can’t do what you do, they’ve lost the ability. Stop and think what, if you had dementia and lost your mind, you would no longer be able to do. You’re starting to see your talents, the abilities God has given you, the grace you have received!

23. Grace without Works

Grace Short Meditations: 23. Grace without works 

Rom 11:6 if by grace, then it cannot be based on works”

Yesterday I told a modern parable of a garden party. Imagine that again. The guests turn up and you invite them to take a glass, size of their choice, and take from the barrel. These guests were invited. They hadn’t worked to get there and, even more, they hadn’t been there before the party began and helped set it up, prepare the food, prepare the punch, lay out the glasses. No, they had done nothing but turn up and believe the host who said, “Please help yourselves.” Why do we find such a picture so natural and easy to understand but struggle when it comes to God’s daily provision for us called grace?

OK, calling all Christian workaholics, those who feel they have to be DOING something to impress God, get Him on our side, win His favour, bend His ear, bend His arm. The thing about grace, if somehow you still missed it along the way and even in the parable above, is that it is FREE, it cannot be earned by anything we do.

It is just an expression of His loving heart towards us. Let’s use another analogy. It’s like getting up in the morning and finding a Christmas tree with presents all around it, all with your name on. You tear off the paper and inside you find tokens and vouchers with words on – love, joy, peace, blessing, strength, wisdom, understanding, patience, perseverance and so on.  On each token or voucher are the additional words: “to redeem, take to the giver,” and it’s yours!  Need more be said?   

Well yes, we do need to say more because the sin aspects of our lives still struggle with the goodness of God. We’ve learnt in life that nothing is free and if an offer looks too good, it probably is – until we come to God! But we’ve been taught ever since we were young, we need to work hard to pass exams, we need to work hard to earn promotion in our career, we need to work hard to be successful in business, we need to train hard to be a successful athlete. Oh yes, we live in a world of ‘Work hard!’ America has this ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. It’s called the American dream, but with few exceptions (handed down the generations) privilege is worked for – hard! And then we turn to the kingdom of God and the Lord says stop trying to earn my blessing – Jesus earned it, you can’t add to it, you can’t do any more to make yourself worthy of my blessing. It’s not about your achievement – but mine!! When will we lay down our self-endeavours to please God, or ‘organise’ church and so much more? Sit still and lay it all down before the Lord and sit there, eyes closed, arms open wide and say, “Lord, please forgive me. I receive all you have for me.” 

22. Sufficient Grace

Grace Short Meditations: 22. Sufficient Grace 

Rom 5:20  “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” 

The disciples looked at the large crowd and listened to Jesus words about buying food to feed them Philip reckoned it would take half a year’s pay to even get near buying enough. No hope of that. Andrew had a small boy in tow with five small loaves and two small fishes, but they won’t go anywhere to feeding but one or two. No hope there. Resources get assessed against the need.

But then in the court of heaven Satan lines up us sinners. This one should die for their self-centred godlessness. Some people say this one is a nice person but they still deserve to die. Sentence paid, set her free!  Well, what about this reprobate, this degenerate, they most definitely should be executed, good for nothing that he is! Sentence paid, set him free. 

Is God’s grace sufficient to overcome all my foibles, my failings, my weaknesses, my daily struggles and strivings and bumbling around as a faith amateur? Consider the principle of our verse today.  Here is a child who turns to Christ. No mega-sins to overcome at six say. Except wilful self-centred godlessness. But grace will change that. Or here’s someone different: a wayward pregnant teenager on drugs. Can grace transform her? Most definitely. Here’s another one. A wife beating, child abusing, authority rejecting criminal with no respect for anyone. Is God’s grace big enough to transform him? Most definitely. Imagine a spectrum of people. Put yourself somewhere on it. Grace is sufficient for each and every person regardless. Us!

Try this as a different picture. You are holding a garden party and a big crowd attends (in the days before Pandemic lock-downs!). You have made a special punch drink that you have in a barrel. On the table you have put of rows of glasses for guests to help themselves. Some glasses are small, others medium-sized, others large. You want your guests to choose their own. The guest arrive and people start helping themselves to the punch. Big glasses, little ones, medium one, and the table of glasses starts to empty. Your partner watches the imbibing guests (fortunately the drink is not strong) and comments about whether there will be enough, but you have prayed over it and the barrel keeps flowing, little glasses filled, medium glasses filled and, yes, still the big glasses are being filled. Whatever the size of glass the supply seems sufficient. It’s a miracle! But isn’t that exactly what God does with us and grace. It doesn’t matter the size of the need, His resources are adequate to meet the need. No ‘guest’ in the kingdom is going to run dry, no one will go thirsty, all will be resourced, all will be satisfied. Hallelujah!   

21. Grace that Reigns

Grace Short Meditations: 21. Grace that Reigns 

Rom 5:21 just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life.”

Paul continues on from yesterday’s verse. For brevity we omitted in that verse yesterday, who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life….”, but now he mentions it again. We focused yesterday on how grace enables us to reign as kings in life, how the resources of God that we summarise in shorthand as ‘grace’, enable us to live like that but, and this is the bit we omitted to be picked up now, we have also been given the gift of righteousness through the work of Christ. The moment we believed, because of what Christ did on the Cross, we are declared righteous. It was a gift alongside grace, if we may put it like that.

But now, a few verses on, Paul puts a different slant on it by saying that it is grace that is doing the reigning, and it reigns “through righteousness” so let’s unpack that.

Before we knew Christ we were spiritually dead and sin prevailed. Now we are alive to God, grace flows in and through us in the form of righteousness – right living, right thinking, right words, right actions – as His Spirit lead and guides, equips and empowers. Not only have we been declared righteous, but we live righteously.

Grace, it is, that now reigns in our lives, not sin. It is the continuous flow of God’s goodness to us and through us. That is what reigns, dominates, controls and governs us now. Not only was us being declared righteous an act of grace by God, but the lives we now live, being righteous, are fueled by grace, expressing this righteousness. Grace predominates, rules, reigns, prevails, is there working to express this righteousness even more and more. We sometimes get ourselves in a twist worrying about what we ought to be doing, what good things we should be doing but that is simply a human, person-centred outlook on life. How about turning it around and seeing it as a Christ-centred, biblically based, Spirit-led life (as I heard someone put it recently), so that it is not us looking to see what we should be doing, but simply responding to the prompting of Jesus through his Spirit to lead us, and when he does and when we follow him, we will find all these resources we’ve been considering, are there for us, to enable us to live out this life of right thinking and right activity (righteousness!). He calls us to step out on the water, we respond and do and he does the enabling. When he says fill up the jars with water and we do, he changes the water into wine. How easy is that! That’s how grace works – it leads, it guides, it calls, it enables, it equips, it prevails. Hallelujah! 

20. Grace to Reign

Grace Short Meditations: 20. Grace to Reign 

Rom 5:17 “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace …. reign in life”

There is a problem in taking verses out of context, even if they genuinely can stand on their own. It is that you miss the big picture.  Paul is talking about how the sin of one man, Adam, brought death to all and so now life becomes available to all through one man, Jesus. (see the rest of v.17) It is, Paul says, the receivers of God’s grace who now “reign in life” through Christ. One paraphrase speaks of the reigning bit as those who, “should live all their lives like kings.” That is an amazing picture.

But let’s back-pedal a bit and consider what life is like and then see what this says to us about the way we live it.  People say bad things (it’s a fallen world). Bad things happen to us (it’s a fallen world). Do we let those words or those hurts dominate us?  Problems and difficulties arise (it’s a challenging world).  Do we let those things impose anxiety upon us that suppresses faith? 

Paul spoke in our verse of an “abundant provision of grace” (and implied it was what we had already received when we came to Christ) and this grace is there to enable us to reign – be in control over – all these things so that we subdue, that anxiety, those hurts etc., and rise up with God-given resources and answers and live lives of peace and joy. That is the possibility with grace.

Let’s put it more bluntly: God’s provisions of grace – what He has done through Christ to allow the rest to be released to us, and His provision of all the resources we need that are now available through the Holy Spirit – all these things are designed to lift us up above the angst that the rest of the world experiences.

Consider the lifting up above I’ve just suggested. Paul said, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6) Our feet may be well and truly on the earth but there is a sense whereby our heads and our hearts and our spirits are knitted to Christ’s. As he is in heaven seated at the Father’s right hand, so we can sometimes see what he sees from his vantage point, feel what he feels as he looks upon our circumstances, and know what he knows as he looks on, and thus with that knowledge and understanding we can be in control (remember the spirit of self-control – Gal 5:22,23 etc.), we can rule or reign over our circumstances, not letting them dominate us. It is God’s grace, all of His resources available to us, that enable us not merely to cope but to rise up and praise Him in the midst of all that is happening around us. Hallelujah! 

19. Faith & Grace

Grace Short Meditations: 19. Faith & Grace 

 Rom 5:2 “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”

For the believer there is always a massive link to be made. It is the link between reading the words, or even hearing them preached each week, and putting them into practice and proving their reality. Whenever we teach studying the Bible we say, first find out the meaning of the passage as the writer originally meant it, second what are the principles or lessons to be learnt here and, third, how do we apply them. The first two are the relatively easy parts; it is the third part that is the hardest and that means not just understanding what is possible and how it can be done, but actually doing it.

I cannot but help remember the testimony and teaching of John Wimber who left us quite a while back. When he first picked up the Bible and read it and went to church, he asked a leader, when are we going to do the stuff. This isn’t the place to go into the depth of what he meant but it does present an enormous challenge – do we do the stuff Jesus spoke about and if you want to scale that down to the personal everyday life level, are we actually experiencing all this stuff we’ve been talking about, about grace?

Now in this verse above from Romans we find a clue as to perhaps why many don’t experience all this stuff. The Pandemic of 2020-21 perhaps worked as litmus paper. You know what that is? You probably learnt about it in chemistry at school. You dip it in a liquid and it changes either to red or blue depending on whether the liquid is an acid or alkali. The Pandemic revealed (and perhaps carries on revealing) the sort of people we are. It was (and is?) a period requiring grace to cope, and if people didn’t have that grace, they got stressed and anxious. But what is the thing that lets grace flow in us?  Faith, says Paul.

Here is the link between faith and grace. Grace is the sovereign hand of God reaching out to give us all His resources, faith is the way we reach out and receive it. Faith, we have often said, is simply responding to what God says. God speaks His intention. Faith is the open heart that says, “Yes, Lord, I believe you.” And when He sees the open heart His Spirit comes and enables, equips, provides what it is we need – wisdom, understanding, peace, assurance, strength, perseverance etc. etc. Faith receives it and lives it out, grace abounding in and through us, looking the challenges (the Goliaths) in the eye and stepping out to deal with them with all of those resources.  If we don’t have the resources we are left with fear, uncertainty, doubt, worry and so on. The presence of God that we open ourselves to, and the grace we receive by faith, is what changes everything.