The World Changes Fast, But Remember This: Grace Doesn’t

Rapid Change

Stop and think for a moment about all the changes you’ve seen just in the last couple of years… From Covid 19 to natural disasters, the last several months have contributed to already dizzying change. Or, back up and take an even longer view of the changes that have happened in the last fifty years, to when the world had no cell phones or personal computers. Everything changes so rapidly it is hard to keep up!

Well, the Bible has a take on change: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)

You Think it’s Fast Now, Just Wait…

The world is changing all around us at a pace unequalled in human history. Each generation likes to talk about “the good old days”, when things were simpler and life was less stressful and less complex. But no generation has ever witnessed the changes and the rate of change that we have experienced over the last 50 years, which shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it seems to be accelerating.

changes happen fast

The flow of information has accelerated exponentially, and you are exposed to more messages (both good and bad, true and false) in a WEEK than the average person 50 years ago received in a lifetime. Today there are over 100 billion Google searches every month. In 2006, there were only 2.7 billion. In 1992 there were a million internet devices. Today there are more than FIFTEEN billion (and growing). To put it in Isaiah’s words, changes are “shaking the mountains”.

More Than the Amount That You Can Count

Opinions, discoveries, and facts are flying at us at a rate faster than we have the ability to process. The amount of new technical data is said to be doubling every two years, which means that a 4 year technical college student will find that what she learned her freshman year is out of date by the time she is a junior. The amount of new information generated in 2015 alone (and this is ancient history by now) surpassed the total amount of annual new information generated (combined) over the last FIVE THOUSAND years.

changes phone

Change for the Better?

We are a generation immersed in change, forced to do things in new ways while leaving traditional values behind. One in seven couples who gets married in America today met on the internet. Gender is now considered a choice. The average employee will have held 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Our world has been shaken by continuous, rapid change. Social gatherings consist of people getting together to sit separately and look at their phones. Electronic connection has overtaken the personal touch in our world, and it makes you wonder if the best things in life are still free.

The Comfort of Constancy

Isaiah says that there is a constant in the midst of a changing world. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Love and peace are still the two things everybody wants, and the two things sometimes hardest to find. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” While the mountains are shaken and the hills are removed, God’s unfailing love surrounds and supports us. “The Lord”, Isaiah says, “has compassion on you.” God’s love offers us peace in the midst of turmoil and consistency in the midst of change.

Today’s message is simple and it is clear: The world changes. Grace doesn’t.

Unchanging

In cities, or on the open range
The only constant thing is change.
People, Data, growth, disaster
Fly around us ever faster,
Causing things to rearrange:
But don’t worry, that will change.
You can’t run, and you can’t hide,
No matter what you’ve done, or tried
The changes come at us so fast
It seems like nothing good will last!
Blast these changes! So infernal,
Is there nothing that’s eternal?
In a world of speed and sham,
There’s always him: the Great I AM.
Change will fly through time and space,
Moving at a faster pace,
And mountain tops will be replaced,
But this abides: Amazing Grace.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Law Versus Grace: And The Apologist, Accepted

The Reason for the Law

According to the dictionary, an apologist is “one who defends or supports something, such as a religion.” Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued righteousness through keeping the law until he fully discovered God’s reason for law and purpose for grace… “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21, NKJV)

A Self-Righteous Man

Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus, was a man striving to do the right thing. Saul obeyed the statutes to the letter, and he prosecuted blasphemers to its fullest extent. He was a brilliant, passionate man who feared God and wanted to do what pleased Him. He was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and had perhaps one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

law conversion

A Dramatic Turnaround

His sight was taken from him for three days, and I am sure he came to grips with his own spiritual blindness as he waited for God to tell him what to do next. As a powerful Pharisee, he originally saw the law as a means to earn God’s favor. But as a sightless pilgrim, he grasped the concept of grace, and he came to understand that the law’s purpose was not to save, but only to condemn.

law condemns

In Romans 3:20 he said “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In Romans 4:15 he said “the law brings wrath.” Religion that is built upon law will always fail for two reasons:

  1. First, the law exists only to demonstrate that men will fall short of its standards and face the wrath of a righteous God; and

2) Second, all men (not just some) will fall short of its standards.

Zealous FOR, then Zealous Against

The Apostle Paul (as Saul is known to us) knew that the law hates sinners, and he called himself the “chief of sinners”. Paul and all of us sinners were doomed under the law’s rigid standards. When Saul encountered Jesus, he stood before Christ not as a righteous Pharisee or even as a good man, but as a sinner. So it is with all of us. Often one of the biggest obstacles we have in discovering God is our own sense of righteousness.

Don’t ever let doing good take the place of discovering Grace. Paul says that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. He had experience as a righteous Pharisee and as a piteous sinner, and he discovered that grace could change a life forever. If, like me, you are a sinner who has done wicked and dishonest things, who has failed the legal requirements in so many respects, that is amazingly good news! Whatever your sins, whatever you have done to break the law, Grace is greater.

The Convert

Saul of Tarsus, on that night,
When you were blinded by the light,
What did you see? What did you find
That changed your heart and changed your mind?
What caused your ruthless heart to thaw,
To see the hopelessness of law?
Was it the look on Jesus’ face
That turned you towards amazing grace?
Was it in blindness that you found
That Grace could more than sin abound?
Where legalism failed to heal,
Your righteousness from Grace was real!
When you were blinded, you could see
God’s love in perfect clarity,
And wrote so that the mystery
Of Grace–that fell on you—could fall on me.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Dive into the Raging River of Grace, and Start Swimming!

The dictionary says grace is “simple elegance or refinement of movement: She moved through the water with grace.” But I think there’s more to it. We all know that grace is unmerited favor, a free gift extended out of generosity. Perhaps that creates a sense of elegance and well-being… But Paul says something very surprising about grace in the Book of Titus. If you think Grace is a passive state of peaceful tranquility, think again! Just read this, recalibrate, and dive into the raging river of Grace.

A Different Defnition

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Grace offers salvation to all people, and Paul says that a person touched by grace should live a different kind of life. He says that graces “teaches” us to live a godly life. The Greek word he uses for “teach” here is stronger than the usual academic term. It (paideuo) is usually used to describe training a child, which indicates a long-term daily commitment to teaching, to admonishment, and to chastisement when necessary. Here’s where it gets interesting: that form of grace is also used sometimes to describe the punishment of criminals. (It was the word Pilate used in Luke 23:16, recommending that Jesus be scourged).

The Whip of Grace?

What?! Grace as a beating? I never think of Grace that way! Grace is a gift! It’s free! However, try to see Paul’s thinking here. The grace of God is more than an easy free gift we get to open: it is a motivator, a life-changing agent that influences our passions, our behavior, and everything in our daily lives. Believers don’t dip into the pool of grace and then lounge by the side, getting a tan; as minnows, we dive into the river of Grace and are swept along, always moving forward, learning to swim, navigating difficult currents, and calling others to dive in with us.

river swim

We are cleansed from wickedness and immersed in gratitude. We are not saved to bask in our own self-righteousness, but to live a life fully amazed and motivated by God’s gift. Grace teaches us rejoice in thanksgiving and become “eager to do good.” The current in the river of grace sweeps us into new territory and helps us experience new life! It may not always be comfortable, but it might be exhilarating! It might chastise us; it might change us; and grace just might challenge us.

I would bet that if all Christians accepted not only the gift of grace, but also the chastisement of grace, there would be more good being done in this world. And we’d have more swimmers.

The River of Grace

Sin is known to all of us, and pays its deadly wages;
The Bible speaks of saving grace for us within its pages…
But here’s a thought that’s not been offered often through the ages:
Grace is not a gift, but it’s a river as it rages!
Grace can cut through hearts of stone,
It changes lives with grace alone–
Its power through the years has shown
That it redirects and teaches every pilgrim that it reaches,
And it carries us through rapids to the sandy, peaceful beaches.

Grace provides a current of chastisement to direct us;
It can offer discipline to teach us and protect us.
If you doubt eternal life, and where you want to go,
The depths of grace provide a landing-place that you should know:
Dive in to the raging river of grace, and let His mercy flow!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Tornadoes, Tragedy, and Trying to make Sense of it All

The images of the tornadoes are there, displayed at somebody else’s expense, an unfortunate testimony to the fact that we humans are morbidly curious. The dangerous weather events that caused such devastation in Oklahoma and Texas have left tragedy in their wake, and newspeople can’t quit showing it and talking about it, and we can’t look away. There are a lot of reasons we look at the news coverage when other people are devastated. We are somber over other peoples’ loss, and concerned about survivors. We are curious about people we know in the affected areas, and wonder how they are. We hope for survivors in the wreckage, and grieve over those who didn’t. We see dazed, heartbroken victims, anxious relatives, and aerial views of what must be worse than a war zone. The wreckage from the tornadoes is otherworldly, like something out of a movie, but full of details only reality could provide. Cars have been twisted and tossed like little toys; houses, businesses, street signs and landmarks are all just gone, leaving nothing behind but trash covered slabs and debris-strewn fields that used to be neighborhoods just like ours. Victims have lost possessions, vehicles, photos and heirlooms, personal belongings, shoes, cell phones, computers, homes, everything. As a result, people are glued to television and the internet, listening to stories, looking at images of utter destruction from the deadly tornadoes.

Some just gawk, relieved it wasn’t them. Some try to learn about safety, playing “what if” scenarios in their heads and evaluating potential survival strategies should such a thing happen to them. Some are motivated by the tragic scenes of ground zero to respond, to offer help. People outside the boundaries of the tragedy analyze it, break it down, and speculate about how it happened, and why. Survivors within the tragedy are struck by the randomness of it all, and are grateful for God’s protection and their good fortune. A quick scan of Facebook shows several themes about the deadly tornadoes and the destruction they left in their wake in Moore, in Cleburne, in Granbury… Some thank God for his blessing, because they or their possessions were spared; many express grief or sympathy, or provide what they hope is helpful information; and there are posts saying that schools were damaged as a result of God’s judgment: since we have taken Him out of schools, He has not protected them from natural disaster. Questions arise out of the wreckage. Did God cause this storm? Did he select certain homes for destruction while blessing others by leaving them intact? Did He judge elementary school children for the fact that we have separation of church and state?
How can a loving God allow this to happen? A couple of observations:
1. Under the vast umbrella of God’s sovereignty, in the same place he allows us choice about what house to buy, what food to eat, who to fall in love with, there is a provision for human will, for cause and effect. Solomon said, “I have seen something else under the sun: the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant, or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” Because we have the ability to make choices, we live in a world that is subject to the vagaries of cause and effect, of time and chance. Ultimately, yes, God allowed the environment that leaves room for tornadoes, and they fall under His domain; but the storms happen because we live with choices in a fallen world. Wouldn’t a loving God cause such tragedies to cease? He only would if He was going to circumvent our ability to choose, and He loves us too much to do that. I certainly believe in God’s sovereignty, and that all things happen within His will. I might concede that God does intervene in this world to exert His will at times, but I also believe He allows random things to happen because He loves us enough to let us make choices.
2. Is God’s blessing indicated by survival? I want to tread lightly here, because I would not presume to know all about God’s blessing, or to dispute with anyone who felt that they had received blessing from God. But a couple of things: if God blessed those who survived, does that necessarily mean He cursed those who didn’t? It’s hard to have one without the other. Perhaps we need to recalibrate our assumptions about blessing. God’s blessing is not found in material things, it is not found in prosperity, and it may or may not be indicated by survival. What if God’s blessing is just His presence and His peace? What if it comes from His being with us in the midst of tragedy, rather than His protecting us from harmful events? God’s blessing could exist then in every outcome, not just the ones that favor us circumstantially. We could find His blessing everywhere, and encounter His supernatural peace and presence in the wreckage of natural disasters, in difficulty and disease, as well as in seasons of prosperity and good fortune. Don’t hesitate to thank God for blessing us with love, health, and possessions; but don’t fail to thank Him for blessing us within devastation, loss, and grief. Paul wrote to Timothy that he encountered trials and tribulation at Antioch, Iconium, and Derbe, but was delivered out of all of them. Sure enough, in Acts we read that Paul discovered and escaped from plots to execute him in Antioch and Iconium. However, at Derbe he was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead. (yes, he was struck repeatedly by large, heavy rocks until he was battered and bruised and assumed dead) Apparently Paul’s definition of deliverance is different than mine. What he knew, and what he taught is that sometimes God’s deliverance (blessing) is FROM the stones; sometimes, it is THROUGH the stones.
3. Did God judge elementary school kids for the fact that we have taken Him out of schools? This is almost too ignorant an assumption to address, but the short answer is “no, He didn’t.” In Luke 13, Jesus is asked if some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate deserved to die. He asked, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” He extends the example to an accident in which the Tower of Siloam fell on unsuspecting bystanders. Jesus uses tragedy to teach that for every one of us, the harsh lessons of life should call us to evaluate ourselves, to be accountable, and to humbly repent before God. But he clearly says that the victims of these tragic events were not selected because of their sin. When bad things happen, we should turn to God.
4. If God cares about us, why are there tornadoes? Why does He allow such tragedy? I think there are lots of ways to approach this, but I will choose one: God’s concern for us is not contained in the prevention of tragedy, but in His participation in it. He is not some cosmic Being, sitting majestically removed from us in the heavens, He is “god-with-us”, who humbled Himself, suffered the death on the cross, and as God the Father had to experience the loss of His own child when He could have stopped Jesus’ suffering at any time. The fact that Jesus lived on in resurrection does not diminish his pain and anguish on the cross one teeny bit; and God’s own power and glory did not prevent him from feeling every bit as loving and protective towards His son as any parent would. Yet His love for us was such that He did not intervene, and He cared about us enough to absorb personal tragedy of the darkest kind. God’s empathy is not phony, and His ability to walk with us in the dark times is not based on whimsy or fiction. He really does understand, and He knows everything there is to know about loss and pain. He also knows about redemption and peace. I would add that the finite circumstances we see may be outweighed by the glory of the infinite outcomes we don’t see. For those innocent victims we see in tragedy, God may have infinite outcomes we will only see when all ends are revealed. We assume in our grief that loss of life is the worst thing that can happen; it may be perhaps the doorway to the best thing that can happen.

We are praying for you guys in Oklahoma, and for you guys on Facebook, and for whomever has to deal with the tornadoes that come. May you find the blessing of God’s presence no matter what the circumstances.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread