Posts tagged grace
Woah! This can’t be good. Things falling to earth, forests on fire, water turned red, things dying all around. What’s happening? It’s like one of those Hollywood blockbusters with the gigantic budget and lots of special effects. But there’s something else going on here.
I’m certainly no expert on Revelation. In fact, most of the time I try to stay away from such “experts,” because they kind of freak me out. Here’s what I do know. This is a book full of imagery. And today, the imagery is of seals – some form of Godly stamp placed on particular calamitous forces which, until unsealed, are unable to wreak havoc.
In other words, rather than God imposing some kind of punishment, it’s as if he is simply withdrawing the block he has had on these things. He is showing us what he has been holding back – the hell that is kept from raining down on us by the umbrella of God’s grace.
That’s the truth of the matter, isn’t it. We never get what we deserve. Every breath, every waking moment is the grace of God at work in our lives. In this season of giving and receiving, of remembering and of making new memories, let us remember this. By God’s grace, we live these lives, however imperfect, and without his grace, we are destined to be tortured and tormented. Thank God today for keeping those seals sealed!
Sometimes, there’s a fine line between encouragement and discouragement. As I read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, I’m reminded of this.
Overall, the letter is encouraging. Paul has heard great reports about what these people are doing. They have wholeheartedly embraced his teaching and have made drastic changes in their lives in order to reflect what they’ve learned from Paul and through the Holy Spirit. They have even stood strong in the midst of persecution. And Paul commends them for these things.
However, in the midst of his encouragement, Paul continues to press them to do more – to go further, dig deeper. I’m reminded of an old football coach I had who, after encouraging us about the effort we put forth on a series of sprints, would look at us and say, “One more time!” and blow that stupid whistle again. Here, Paul is saying, “Hey, you’re doing great! Now…one more time!”
It’s not that Paul is doing anything wrong, but the fact is it can be pretty discouraging to think that you’re aiming for a goal you will never reach. Jesus set the bar pretty stinking high for us human beings. He came in and pitched a perfect game and now we’re supposed to go out and do the same. And not level of holiness that we may achieve will come close to comparing with him.
And that’s where the line between encouragement and discouragement falls – somewhere between the stark reality that we’re never going to hit the goal and the understanding that we’re not complete failures. But here’s the great part: Right on that line – the place where we’re tempted to just throw in the towel – there is where we find God’s grace.
There, God steps in and says, “No, you’re never going to hit the mark, but I’ll give you an “A” for effort.” We strive for a goal that we will never reach, but one which, fortunately, we don’t have to reach. That’s the way God works! I, for one, am encouraged by that fact.
We all know that it’s really hard to have grace for people who have hurt you or someone you love. How much more difficult must it be when someone (or a group of people) is actually responsible for the murder of your friend?
That was the situation the disciples found themselves in. The people that they were sent to first – the ones they would be tasked with bringing into the community of Jesus believers – were the very same people who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus. The temptation would have been to simply leave town and to start up Jesus’ church in some other place.
But, as a friend of mine often says, you don’t choose who you get to pastor. Likewise, you don’t get to choose how you should pastor them. You seek God’s wisdom and act appropriately. And I believe it was that wisdom – wisdom given from a Father who had just watched his people torture and kill his son – that Peter relied on when he said these words:
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:17-20)
No hate. No vitriol. Grace. Peter, having been given the heart and spirit of God for the people of Israel, has grace on them. He recognizes that whatever malice was in their hearts was because they were ignorant of who Jesus really was. Suddenly, instead of being the enemy, Peter recognized the people of Israel as victims of the deception of the true enemy.
As such, that day, just weeks after the death of Jesus, the apostles began to build the global church of Jesus by reaching out to some of the very same people who had him killed.
There really isn’t much in the way of uplifting ideas to take away from today’s reading. There is not a whole lot of good news here. God is upset. The people haven’t listened and aren’t listening. God is done with them. There is, however, a takeaway for us right at the end of chapter 22.
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22: 30-31)
He looked. Even though, as he has laid out in these chapters and previous ones, God had every reason to wipe these people off the map, he still looked for someone to be an advocate for the people of Israel. He was hoping against hope that there would be someone to go to bat for them. But there was no one.
If he had found someone, God says that he wouldn’t have felt the need to destroy Israel. If just one person had advocated for them, he would have backed off. I would say that even if that person wasn’t all that fond of Israel or their practices, even a tepid response of support would have probably sufficed. After all, God was looking for a reason to show mercy. But he got nothing.
I think that for us, there is a lesson to be learned here. So often, Christians are quick to judge and quicker to call down judgement. Some people even long for the days that the “wicked” will receive their due. They (as I mentioned in an earlier post) look expectantly for the return of Jesus, not because of the good news he will bring to the world, but because of the justice he will bring to those who are against him.
But that’s not God’s heart. God doesn’t want to bring justice on his children. He wants to have mercy – to offer grace. Often, he’s just looking for an opportunity to do so. He’s looking for someone who will “stand in the gap” – someone to advocate for those who can’t or won’t advocate for themselves.
I guess that’s why I prefer to be an advocate. That’s why, when I see someone who is obviously depraved, my first thought is to wonder what kind of life they must have had that drove them to that place. I think that’s how God would desire for me to view that person – not seeking to judge, but seeking to understand. Not seeking to bring vengeance, but hoping against hope that there is a path toward mercy and grace to be found in there somewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the perfect example of grace, but I am thankful for the examples that I had around me in my formative years of those who looked for opportunities to show mercy rather than opportunities to bring judgement. Those examples filtered into my character in ways I may never fully comprehend, but which have affected not only me but those around me in immeasurable ways.
My prayer for you (and for myself) is that God would infuse us with his grace, love and mercy. Even in our darkest hours and even in our most trying of times, that we would hold onto that hope that there is always a pathway forward. That we would seek with everything in us to avoid bringing judgement and, instead, to replace it with mercy. Honestly, I think that’s impossible to do on our own, but with the Holy Spirit living in us and working through us, we can do it. I can and you can.
It has been suggested that God really brought all this upon himself by setting up the people of Israel for failure. He gave them a standard to live by that simply couldn’t be followed. And, when they didn’t follow his commands, he got angry with them.
But here’s the thing: he wasn’t angry at them for slipping up. He wasn’t angry at them for making mistakes. Ultimately, he wasn’t even just angry about their open defiance of him. What was the thing that was really the tipping point – the thing that caused God to say, “I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.” It was that he looked at the people who he had poured himself into and saw this:
You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not event conformed to the standards of the nations around you. (Ezekiel 5:7)
In other words, the people who had been on the receiving end of God’s love and grace somehow managed to be even further from God than the people who had been on the receiving end of his punishment. That’s not to say that the neighboring nations were doing anything right – the people of Israel were just so wrong.
As I look around our nation and world today and I see the actions of some people who call themselves Christians, I wonder if God wouldn’t have similar words and feelings for us. As the recipients of his grace, are we extending it to others? As the object of his love, have we loved others in turn? As the adopted heirs to his kingdom, have we welcomed others into our family with open arms?
Or has the same fate befallen us that befell the people of Israel? Have we risen above the fray and set our sites on the things of God? Or have we fallen into the trap of thinking that we are better than everyone else, that we deserve something and that we somehow have the ability to make it on our own?
That was the downfall of Israel. Will it be the downfall of us as well?