Do you want cheap or costly grace?

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoffer

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The Unexpected timing of God’s grace                                        Sheer grace, not good advice
Image created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkIIkingscross

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Never once did we ever walk alone

Most of you would agree that any form of exercise is more enjoyable when someone else is with you. Even just walking with a friend they help you go further and longer than you ever thought possible. You forget about the difficulties, your sore foot, or back, the cold weather, or how much you hate exercise. Walking alone you can think of a million reasons to stop. A companion helps you keep going. (Dog companions are especially good at this.)

When it comes to us and God, we have a wonderful promise – that He is with us, always. There is not once that we were alone. He is in us, walking with us through every difficulty. Yet he is more than just a faithful or encouraging companion. He is a Spirit who lives in us, a Spirit not of timidity and fear, but of love, power and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” (Album: 10 000 Reasons) captures well this confidence we have in Christ, that we are in Christ and He is most certainly with us, in us. We are never alone!

“Never Once”

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come Knowing that for every step You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done Knowing every victory was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful You are faithful, God, You are faithful

God knew what He was doing when He made “church”

church isYesterday was the first Sunday in years that I didn’t make it to a service at my church. There’s nothing like a bit of bronchitis to keep you at home. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that God really knew what he was doing when he established the “church” and called us not to forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).

Without that regular meeting together with other Christians, both on Sundays and at other times through the week, it is easy to become extremely self-focused. (Well that’s what I found out!) We forget the bigger picture, where God is holding the circumstances of both our lives and the universe in His strong hands. Without that frequent encouragement and challenge from God through His word, and His other children, your perspective can go extremely awry.  God lives in us together, through His Spirit. Being a lonely ‘coal’ away from the collective ‘heat’ of others makes you forget the strength and power of the living God that is in us together. We are part of the Body of Christ, the gathering of Christ’s followers, and like all bodies we function best when we are being used, when we are active. It’s hard for the body to be active if parts are missing and isolated.

Being part of the Body is a privilege, despite the fact that we will struggle at times to treat each other as Christ would. Yet this is God’s design for growing and strengthening us. As we rub shoulders with other saved sinners we learn to bear with each other’s imperfections, in love. Going to church is so good for us because it gets our eyes off ourselves (like Peter in Matthew 14) and onto the excellent One who holds all things together. He knows us by name and holds our head above water. He knows that our greatest happiness comes from pouring our adoration towards Him!

“God knows who He is. He knows what He’s worth. And He knows the best thing He can give us is Himself. So in calling us to prize Him above all else, God is both gaining the praise that is rightfully His alone and causing us to gain the greatest treasure we will ever know. God is not an egotist seeking more than He deserves from us. Rather, He is God, choosing, in worship, to reward us with Himself.” (Louie Giglio –  “The Air I Breathe” 2003, p.31)

When we see ourselves as part of the Body of Christ, we see ourselves as something greater than ourselves – something designed by the Undescribable Merciful one True God!
I have a number of Christian friends who for various reasons are unable to share regular time with a church family. This has challenged me to consider how we can be better at including those who find themselves in this situation – even those within our church family who are unable to gather with us regularly. The church* is the people and it does not have to be contained by walls or geography.
On the other hand, if you are the thing that is keeping you from being part of a church family, don’t let fear or geography or travelling time keep you away. Don’t miss out on the thing that will grow your faith and confidence in God, that will allow you to give and receive encouragement, to sharpen others and be sharpened in Christ, to publicly declare the praises of Him who brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Praising God is so good for us! Gathering together is even better!

I’m really looking forward to next Sunday when hopefully this sickness will not stop me getting to church! Being part of the gathering will be sweet medicine, without the nasty side effects of what I am currently taking!

Nb. If you want to read more about Suffering or Sickness visit these other posts I have written:
Book review: How to Suffer Well
Lessons from the tissue box

* By church I don’t mean any particular modern form of the church, merely the gathering of Christians, which began a few millennia ago, in the first century AD. This practice of gathering is one huge common denominator we have with those who first called themselves Christians.

Blessings (through raindrops!)

Blessings laura sThis is a song by Laura Story, author of the very popular song Indescribable, a song made famous by Chris Tomlin. (Apparently she wrote the song with the help of Tomlin’s bass player.)  I love the way she challenges us to remember that even circumstances we don’t consider “blessings” may actually be just that! My favourite line comes at the end of each chorus: “What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” You can listen to the song by following the link at the end. Blessings!

“We pray for blessings, We pray for peace,
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity,
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need,
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops,
What if Your healing comes through tears,
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear,
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love,
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
When friends betray us, When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears and
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching(s) of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise.”


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Lessons from the tissue box                                                                               How to Suffer Well
runny-noseSuffering Well book cover

 

Lessons from the tissue box

runny-noseA friend who knows I’m sick at the moment has passed on a deep theological question, probably just to keep me busy and distracted from the headcold and sore throat. Here is the question: is God teaching us stuff in sickness always, or is sickness just bad stuff that happens as a result of being in a sin filled world, or is it both? Well I could just say ‘both ‘and be done with it! But let’s ponder for a little while.

It seems that we all have become convinced that the default setting of our body should be 100% health. We think that eternal youth is possible if we just eat well, sleep well, exercise and use the right face cream. From the moment we are born our bodies begin to visibly grow and blossom, but at the same time we are degrading! Skin cells die and flake off even on those cute little babies. And there are a thousand other processes of repair (and warfare) going on behind the scenes, minute by minute, day after day, year after year, that we are not even aware of.
Sciencemuseum.org.uk says: “A cell can die in many ways – through infection, poisoning, overheating or lack of oxygen. An uncontrolled death is messy: the cell swells up, and its contents leak away. This may damage surrounding cells. But there is another, tidier way to go – programmed self-destruction, or apoptosis. It seems that cells often choose to kill themselves. We now know that controlled cell death is crucial for normal human development and good health throughout life.”
Yet strangely it is only when this ‘cell death and repair’ process inconveniences us (or threatens our very existence) that we notice it and label it ‘sickness’. The pain in the throat, the headache and the runny nose all represent an unseen and amazing battle being fought in our bodies. They are simply doing what God designed them with the ability to do – fight off intruding viruses and other random elements. Now this is cheery isn’t it!

If sin had never entered the world through the first Adam, would people still have had to endure sickness? Probably? Their immortal bodies, that were NOT going to have to experience death, surely would have to repair themselves, and sometimes that fight to repair would mean ‘sickness’. (This is all supposition, please understand).  Sickness is perhaps not so abnormal afterall, but a mechanism designed by God to sustain and repair us. And as it is part of normal life (though perhaps made more difficult by fall of man and the groanings of the imperfect world around us) it is something we must learn to be content with and glorify God in.

Paul’s words in Philippians 4 perhaps apply here: 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Being sick brings a greater need, for sleep, for relief from pain, for someone to go to the shops and buy more tissues and panadol. Yet this is just part of the normal daily challenge to look to God and see this world and ourselves from His gracious perspective. He IS teaching us everyday, but could we say especially in days of sickness we LEARN more? Perhaps we are more teachable when it is a greater challenge to be content in Him. We learn more because our self-reliance, on our own abilities and physical strength, is sorely challenged.
But in Christ, who gives us strength, we can be content even in sickness. It will be a battle, as we remind ourselves that we are in Him, and seek to rest on His strength, not ours.

Sickness also helps imprint in our hearts and minds this truth from Romans 8:28 (NLT)
“. . . God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them”.

Sickness teaches us to trust Him more – and rest in Him.

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How to suffer well
Suffering Well book cover

Thinking about Psalm 73: What did Asaph find in the Sanctuary?

asaphMany thanks to guest preacher Andrew Bain who invited us last Sunday (Mother’s Day) to consider our attitude to the prosperity of the ungodly in the world. In Psalm 73 Asaph expresses at length his bitter envy of ungodly prosperous people and he cries out to the Lord at this extreme injustice. Then midway through the Psalm he takes the time to visit God’s sanctuary (probably the temple, to pray and read God’s word). There he realises how seriously skewed was this envy and this cry of injustice!  “I finally understood the destiny of the wicked” (v17). “I realised that my heart was bitter….I was foolish and ignorant” (v21-22).   In the sanctuary Asaph gains renewed confidence in the goodness of God, and realises that it is the ungodly, not himself, who are on the “slippery slope” to ruin.

What a strange coincidence (God-incidence!) that this Psalm was explored on Mother’s Day, a day when some of the “unfair” aspects of motherhood are supposedly remedied, with gifts and much  attention and thanks being showered on mothers. The world has been shouting at us for some time that motherhood is unfair, that our biology has put women at a disadvantage in a society where prosperity and material gain is the ultimate good (and god!). When we compare our opportunites with those of most men in the developed world, it can seem unfair that women must put their career and their bank balance on hold in order to bear children (in considerable agony). . . and then stay home with them, doing daily repetitive tasks which, though extremely valuable, are deigned unimportant in the eyes of the world. Even the alternative seems unfair: we put the children in day care, head back to work and then, exhausted, enjoy very little of our life as we juggle a thousand demands on our time and attention. We may even get to the point of envying non-Christian women, who sleep in on Sundays and don’t have to add church commitments, bible reading and prayer to their already full diaries! How unfair is it that women often must battle loneliness when at home with little ones, and again at the other end of life, lonely, widowed and apparently forgotten? How unfair is it that some women who want children have been deprived the opportunity, while the ungodly despise and dispose of their unborn children in great numbers?

So what do we do when these bitter thoughts creep in, settle down and discourage us? Like Asaph we need to turn to God. As Christians, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, He lives in us, yet we must take the time to “tune in” to God’s voice. The “sanctuary” is a place we must go to daily, as we turn away from the voices and attitudes of the world, and tune into God’s voice in His word and through prayer. Paul challenges us in the book of Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). As we tune into God’s voice, in His word, the Spirit helps us understand and see things from a right perspective. God reminds us that the world we live in does not hold correct opinions about heavenly realities: who is King, who is in charge, what is right and wrong, and the ultimate purpose of mankind! God reminds us of the riches we have in Christ, which far surpass anything we could aspire to own or achieve in this “unfair” world. Let’s turn to God and restore our confidence in his goodness. He sent His own son, Jesus, to face extreme injustice, nailed to a cross for the sins of those who were his enemies (us!) and because of this we can draw close to God. Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever. (Psalm 73)