Monthly Archives: March 2015

Good Enough

I’ve known some really good people in my life. In fact, I have known some “non-believers” who were more pleasant to be around than some who profess Christ. Problem is, how good is good enough? The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus encountering a young man who inquired of Christ, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

As Jesus talked with this young man (Luke 18:18-27), we find that this man was far more “good” than anyone I have known in my 53 yrs of life. He confessed that he had never committed adultery, murder, stolen or lied, and has always honored his father and mother! (Who among us can honestly say that we have been that good?!? Personally, sadly, I am 0-5 on that list.)  But Jesus said that was NOT good enough. In fact, we see in the opening of this passage that this fella also confessed Jesus was both God & Savior – I surmise this because 1) he asked of Jesus a question about eternal life… This strongly suggests to me that he knew Jesus was the Savior sent from God; 2) he knew He was God, for he called Him “Good”.

But, alas, confessing Jesus was both God & Savior, was not good enough either.

Lastly, Jesus essentially says to the man “You want eternal life? Then allow me to be Lord & King of your life, ruling and reigning over even your most prized possessions.” In this, the man walked away sad, for he was willing to admit Jesus was God; willing to admit Jesus was Savior; willing to live a “good” – even very good – life; but not able to surrender the throne of His life to The Christ. 

Isn’t that our problem really? We want a Savior (for heaven); we want a God (in heaven); we want to be pretty “good” so we can feel good about ourselves (a little heaven on earth); but it all comes to a grinding halt when we are faced with the reason the Savior came… To make a way that we might return to know His rule and reign in our hearts and lives; knowing intimacy with our Father; and knowing the indwelling of the Spirit – i.e.: “thy Kingdom come”

So, here is what every person (including the rich your ruler) wants: “a list of rules for inheriting eternal life!”

  1. Acknowledge Jesus is God
  2. Acknowledge Jesus is Savior
  3. Do not commit adultery (or even lust); do not murder (or even hate); do not lie or steal; honor your mother and father.
  4. Surrender wholey to the Lordship of Christ without reservation into all aspects of your life that He might, by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, and His sovereign regeneration of your life, bring His Kingdom to rule and reign in you…. (grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone).

Sorry, I realize #4 kinda destroyed “my list” – but after all, isn’t that the point… 

Let him who has ears, hear.

  

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Mercy and Grace – Part 1: The Distinction

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Mercy and Grace

Part 1: The Distinction

Guest Blogger: Phil Powell

Most Christians I know take great comfort and find welcomed relief in Romans 6:14b.  “…you are not under law, but under grace.”  We tend to gloss over or flatly ignore the surrounding versus including the first half of that same verse that declares, “For sin shall not be your master,” let alone the following verse, “What then, shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!”

Our struggle is this.  We have accepted the gift of Christ from the Father, but we see in our lives that we still go on sinning, perhaps less or differently than before, but in the light of Christ we still see our darkness.  The sinless life of Christ acts as the same plumb bob as the Law that exposes the fact that our lives do not line up with God’s requirement of holiness.  For the most part, we have justified our sinning condition by declaring our position in Christ and rejoicing that we are no longer under the Law meaning, in our minds, we no longer have to do what the Law says because we are under grace.  But here’s the rub.  The Father gave us more commands through Jesus Christ than He did through Moses.  The Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commands.”  If we are even slightly familiar with the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John this should be a frightening prospect.

Of course, Isaiah 53:5 says He took our punishment.  Yes!  Praise God!  Our position with the Father, lost through Adam, has been restored through the sin offering of Christ.  We have been reconciled back to our Father.  Because of the death of Christ the veil between us and our Holy Father has been ripped in two and we are now seated in Heavenly places with Christ.  Because of the cross and the shed blood of Christ the sacrificial Lamb, and through our faith in that sacrifice, our position is established.  Again, praise God!

Isn’t that enough?  Now that that’s settled, can’t I push on through life doing as much good as I can to show Him how much I appreciate my “avoid hell free” ticket and what He did to obtain it for me?  This is the mercy of the cross: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

But there is something more.  Through faith we died with Christ.  Anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom. 6:6)  We have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Rom. 6:18)  Paul’s instruction is to offer the parts of your body in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness, not to impurity as you used to do. (Rom. 6:19)  We are not free from the consequences of sin, for we shall reap what we sow. (Gal. 6:7, 8)  He that sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; he that sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.  “…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:13)  “…live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (or flesh).” (Gal. 5:16).

However, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we are frustrated that so many of the desires of our flesh still control us.

“Why, if I am seated with Christ in Heavenly places, do I still get so angry when someone obstructs or hinders my pursuit of what I want?  Why am I so dissatisfied and want more or different than what I have?  Why do I still gravitate to those familiar sins that gratify my flesh?  Why do I try so hard to get people to think highly of me?  Why do I worry about tomorrow?”

Why would Jesus tell us not to do these things knowing we couldn’t even keep the Ten Commandments much less the scores of Christ’s commandments?

I submit that Grace has lost its effectualness for us because we have confused it with mercy.  We cannot have faith in something we’re not aware of.  As long as we think being “under Grace” simply means the penalty for our sins has been paid, doing away with the consequences of sin, the true power of Grace is rendered impotent by my lack of faith through which Grace is made effective.  Let me explain.

Mercy is defined by the modern dictionary as “compassionate treatment of an offender.  A disposition to be kind and forgiving.”  The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines mercy as “that benevolence, mildness, or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries or to treat an offender better than he deserves.  The disposition that tempers justice and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and to forebear judgment.”

In the Old Testament, the Lord often referred to having mercy on someone.  The Psalmist repeats many times “His mercy endures forever.”  The original Hebrew word translated as mercy refers to favor, kindness, pity, and compassion.

It was because of God’s mercy that He gave the Law.  His people needed to know what sin is in order to see how their lives contrasted with and were at enmity with their Holy God.  His goal was for the creation to ultimately be reconciled to its Creator so that, once again, the Creator might indwell His creation.  Without the Law, His people couldn’t know what sin was, nor realize their need of a Savior.

In the New Testament, the original Greek word translated as mercy also means to have compassion or pity on someone.  Many times those who needed healing or deliverance cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me;” an inducement to show compassion or mercy by doing something.

Paul greets both Timothy and Titus with “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find Grace to help in time of need.  So, there is obviously a distinction between mercy and Grace.

It is the great, forever enduring mercy of God that motivated Him to send His son to take the punishment for our sins and reconcile us to Himself through the death of Jesus.  We know from Romans 5:10 and others, that through His death and our faith in His death we are brought back into right position with God; new wine skins ready to receive the new wine.

So there was mercy under the old covenant of the Law and there is mercy under the new covenant of Grace.  But the story does not stop on the cross.  It doesn’t stop with the atoning blood.  It doesn’t stop even with the tearing open of the veil of the temple giving us access to the holiest of holies.  No.  After the cross is the resurrection!  Christ made alive to indwell us with His Life.  Romans 5:10 goes on to say, “…having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”  “Saved” is translated from the Greek word sozo, meaning to be healed, made whole, and made complete.  This is accomplished by Christ’s Life.

COMING SOON: Mercy and Grace – Part 2: Welcome To Grace!

Guest Blogger, Phil Powell, is a husband, father, and grandfather; entrepreneur, business owner, community & church leader, mentor, faithful Berean, and passionate lover of Christ. Phil resides in rural west Georgia with his wife of 40 years, and attends The Church at Chapelhill in Douglasville.

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Mercy and Grace – Part 2: Welcome To Grace

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Mercy and Grace

Part 2: Welcome To Grace

Guest Blogger: Phil Powell

The modern dictionary defines grace as “seemingly effortless beauty of charm or movement or form. A pleasing characteristic or quality. Skill at avoiding the inept or clumsy course. A virtue or gift granted by God.” That’s just a secular definition but, I have to say, it’s a pretty good picture of what the Life of Christ looks like in someone who is truly and completely surrendered to His Grace.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines grace as “Favorable influence of God in renewing the heart and restraining from sin. A disposition proceeding from divine influence.”

The original Greek word translated as grace refers to “the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life including gratitude. It is a benefit, a gift.” Although it is occasionally translated as favor, it is overwhelmingly used in the context of divine power gifted from God to people for the accomplishing of God’s purpose. It is the divine empowerment that makes it possible for humans to do what humans cannot do. Or, better stated, Grace is the actualization of the Holy God doing through man what man cannot do himself. Let’s see if we find this to be a foundational scriptural principle.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much Grace was upon them all.” Acts 4:33

“So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of His Grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.” Acts 14:3

“From Attilia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the Grace of God for the work they had now completed.” Acts 14:26

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of His Grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32

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

“So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also Grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 5:21

“We have different gifts, according to the Grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” Rom. 12:6

“I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the Grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the gentiles…” Rom. 15:15

“By the Grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder…” I Cor. 3:10

“But by the Grace of God I am what I am, and His Grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the Grace of God that was with me.” I Cor. 15:10

“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s Grace.” II Cor. 1:12

“And God is able to make all Grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” II Cor. 9:8

“But He said to me, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” II Cor. 12:9

“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His Grace…” Gal. 1:15

“For it is by Grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Eph. 2:8

“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s Grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this Grace was given me to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Eph. 3:7, 8

“You then, my son, be strong in the Grace that is in Christ Jesus.” II Tim. 2:1

“For the Grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness, and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:11, 12

“Wherefore we are receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have Grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear.” Heb. 12:28

There are many more references and much could be written about them. For our purposes here, it is important to note that Grace is used to denote both “God’s favor” and “God’s favors” and includes the power that connects them.

So, how can we realize His Grace in our daily lives? How can we experience this empowerment not to sin and to actually fulfill the purposes for which He made us, redeemed and called us? Just as we enter into His death and receive forgiveness and reconciliation through faith, so also we receive the power of Grace through faith.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him…” II Pet. 1:3

So how do we begin to have faith in the Grace that God has given? According to James chapter 4, God gives Grace to the humble. We must submit ourselves to God. The Kingdom of God and God’s favor is reserved for those who become as little children recognizing their total dependence upon their Father who works in them both to will and to do according to His good purpose. We must bow to the “author and finisher of our faith.” It is God’s will that His children know Him. Let us ask Him to reveal Himself to us. When He does we will hear and faith will arise. May we behold His glory, the one who came from the Father full of grace and truth. His truth sets us free from sin and His Grace empowers us to live that way.

Guest Blogger, Phil Powell, is a husband, father, and grandfather; entrepreneur, business owner, community & church leader, mentor, faithful Berean, and passionate lover of Christ. Phil resides in rural west Georgia with his wife of 40 years, and attends The Church at Chapelhill in Douglasville.

(February 11, 2015)

Storm Warning! Immediate Action Required

Sunday August 28, 2005 4:00pm EST – The national weather service had been saying for nearly 5 days that they were “greatly concerned”. Their concern turned to “alarm”, and went from serious, to grave! The course was fixed and the destination was clear. With an less than 24 hours till landfall, this was no longer a forecast with a percentage of likelihood… It was now a reality, and danger was imminent. A weather statement was issued like never before in modern history: “Catastrophic Hurricane Warning” – a Landfall in New Orleans with a strong likelihood of massive damage and significant casualties. A Mandatory evacuation order was issued. A Federal State of Emergency came from the nations capital: “Take immediate action now. Prepare for historic devastation!”

Some, even prior to this frightening alert, had heeded the advance warnings. Others had heard this and prior warnings, but failed to take action. Others simple scoffed the warnings. Many were prepared; a great many were not. And for those who were not prepared… or ill prepared… their loss was great, and unmerciful.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city, the landscape, the commerce, the economy, the population and the people of New Orleans were changed forever by the “single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. History.”

Consider this: when the 145 mile per hour category 4 hurricane cleared the city of New Orleans – 80% of the city was underwater; damaged exceeded $108 billion; tens of thousands were left homeless; over 1 million people we displaced by the storm; shelters, at peak, were housing some 273,000 citizens; the cities population was cut in half; and 1,833 people were left dead. No one was left unaffected!

Matthew 7:24-27 reads: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

What if I said a storm was coming? Would you heed the warning – both hearing, and taking decisive action? Or, would you hear the warning, but only talk about it, attending meetings about it, but never take any measurable action? Or would you scoff at the warning, and ignore it altogether? What will the result be, if a storm does indeed come? If you heed the warning, what would that look like? How would you prepare? What would you do?

What if I told you that the preparations that need to be made, would be every bit as beneficial during the storm, as they would be if no storm came at all? What if I can promise you that you had nothing to lose in preparing for the storm, even if a/the storm never comes? But it will come. Even if it’s small unexpected rain showers. Or just a spring Thunderstorm that passes quickly. Or a overly blustery fall day. Life sends us storms – almost daily. Yet, there may be a large storm brewing. Not unlike the reoccurring headlines on the U.S. West coast: “The Big One is Coming” – and the wisest of residents that live there, live prepared, all the time, every day – so we too, are called to live prepared.

Even if you doubt “The Big One”, you know that you will face storms tomorrow; next week; next month; and next year. And the preparation that I am proposing, will be that of a wise man who built his house upon the rock. And a house upon the rock, whether there is a storm or no storm, is the place our Lord has said that our house must be.

Our Lord does not propose to tell the building contractors among us – in this parable of the wise and foolish man – that we are to build some physical structure of a home, upon a granite slab; rather it is clear that the message of the parable is to take obedient steps of action, in response to what you are hearing from Him, regarding the spiritual foundation of your life. Matthew 6:33 teaches us that we are to so prioritize the spiritual aspects of His Rule & Reign, that all this “other physical stuff” will be added to us (taken care of) as a result. If our lives are firmly established upon the rock that comes from true Biblical faith, then there will be no preparation necessary when we hear the “storm warnings.” But I submit to you that many – if not most – among Christians in America – are living a religious brand of Christianity that is so shallow, they would sell their souls to the devil for a loaf of bread in time of need.

So what of me? And what of you? Are we living a life of true faith (that is: Hearing the Father’s voice; Believing what He says [in spite of ourselves]; and because of love, by grace, taking action, in obedient response to His words) that will allow us to not only survive the coming storm, but actually thrive spiritually on the midst of it. Being prepared looks like “the fullness of the obedience of faith”, manifesting in a great many ways including: intentionality in discipleship, commitment in relationships and community, self-sacrifice, grace empowerment, repentance, devotion, allegiance, love and much time devoted to intimate prayer with the Father that we might come to know His voice in all things!

Preparation looks like embracing the storms of life, and the prospect of “the storm” (whenever it comes, and whatever it looks like) with joy and thanksgiving, knowing that He who had begun a good work in you, is seeing it through to completion in Christ, in and through the storm. Preparation looks like being consumed with a radical extremist lifestyle of loving God, loving one another, faithfully being devoted to His Word, and establishing now – in advance of the storm(s) – where our allegiance lies!

This is the preparation we need. This is the life we are called to. It should not take the threat of a storm to bring us to this place of preparation that we have been called to since our conversion to Christ – nonetheless, prepared we must be:

“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” (Luke 12:35-40)

It is past time to prepare. We must trim our lamps, prepare our oil flasks (Matt 25:1-13), and be dressed in readiness. Not just because of storm warning, but because this is how our Lord and Kings has called us to live every day in His Kingdom.