The grace of God…it’s a tough subject for me. That may sound peculiar to many of you, but the reality of God’s grace in my life can be a hard thing for me to swallow. First, I am honest enough to know that I am undeserving of anything, specifically something as profound as the grace of an Almighty God. You see, I’m someone who adamantly disagrees with the current trend we’re now seeing in culture, a trend that lends the thought of everyone deserving a trophy simply because they showed up. It’s political correctness and entitlement mentality on steroids, and it’s gobbling up things of real value, things like diligent preparation, robust effort, and quality of performance…things that actually matter in the real world. So, grace is hard for me, because I know that I haven’t done anything to deserve God’s grace. Nothing. I receive an incredibly beautiful trophy everyday for the work and effort that Jesus put in on my behalf. I’m underserving to receive it, and its place in my life often causes me to feel guilt. We can call that feeling conviction, and conviction is a good thing, but where grace is concerned, the feeling is still often the same for me…guilt.
The word “grace” in the New Testament is the word “charis,” and it means “blessing, favor, or kindness.” Being kind to someone is one thing, but when you couple grace as an act of Almighty God, you have something entirely different. God is not simply “being kind” to me or His children; instead, God’s grace is sparing me the curse that my sin deserves, a curse that should lead me to an eternal separation from Him and a future in a place that Scripture calls the Lake of Fire. It’s not a spa; it’s eternal and everlasting hell, and it’s what I deserve because of my sin.
So let’s be clear, God’s grace is doing much more for me than simply bestowing an act of kindness; that definition diminishes the inexplicable nature of this marvelous gift. Instead, He’s saving my eternal life, a life that, were it not for Christ, could never do anything more than grovel at His feet for a mercy that I am not due. God’s grace, for those who know Him, is a manifestation of severely unmerited favor and the promise of a blessed everlasting life in paradise upon those who are most definitively unqualified and undeserving…all because of the sacrifice of the innocent life of the compassionate Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our Salvation is Through Grace...
Restating the obvious, we can’t earn favor with God on our own. Mankind has proven time and time again that it is our sin nature which tends to rule the day, and it’s exactly that nature which prevents us free access into God’s eternity. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Interestingly, it is not our faith that initially makes salvation possible; it’s grace. Contrary to the belief of many, we can’t simply decide when we’re going to accept Christ at any given moment. We must first be drawn to Christ by the conviction of the Spirit of God, a conviction which is not working under the auspices faith…but of grace. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God’s grace then works to effect conviction upon the hearts of the sinful that are running away from God. At the point of initial conviction, true faith may not play any role in the equation, but it is because of grace that the sinful and rebellious underserving are pursued by a holy and righteous God for the unmerited gift of salvation. Incredible.
Why would God choose to pursue a world of people living in open rebellion to His perfect will?
It’s not faith; it’s grace.
Why would Christ, the blameless Son of God, willingly forsake His own sovereignty and allow Himself to be beaten and nailed, without remorse, to a manmade instrument of torture and death…and all to bring redemption to His executioners?
It’s not faith; it’s grace.
Grace is a powerful thing. It’s an undeserved benevolence bestowed on those of us who are rightfully owed nothing. And, the wellspring of God’s great grace is eternal.
I bear the guilt of my sin on a daily basis, and that guilt is daily covered by the blood of an innocent Christ. This fact does not often escape my thoughts, although it can frequently escape my behavior. When it does, and the magnitude of my sin nature firmly embeds itself in the forefront of my mind, the guilt and conviction I experience can be crushing. Again, I don’t expect a trophy for bad performance, and it’s hard for me to wrap my little mind around a grace that freely flows into my life, in spite of my often lethargic, marginal, and often circumstantial attempts of sincerity regarding my walk with Christ. I should do better, but I thank God for conviction. No one needs prayer more than the weak and sinful author of this blog post.
As we walk through the steps of our existence on this earth, it’s important to come to the understanding that we are not perfect, we are not capable of working out our own righteousness before a Sovereign and all-knowing God, and without grace, our very existence would encounter a paradigm shift in a bad direction. I thank God for His grace. I thank God that He views me and my sin through the purposefully shed blood of His Son, a Son who chose to hang on Calvary’s cross in my place and for my sin. I thank God for my feelings of conviction and guilt, and I thank Him for loving me through the profound weakness of my flesh, the brokenness of my flawed character, and the often inattentive nature of my communication with Him. I’m humbled that His Spirit continues to return, day after day, moment by moment, to lead His struggling servant who has often wandered well off the path. Like a good shepherd, He comes looking for His lost sheep. His grace finds me, most of the time at my weakest, and nudges me back into the shadow and protection of His very mighty wings.
I’m sure of very little in my life, but I’m absolutely positive that I don’t deserve God’s grace. I’m also absolutely confident that Christ loves me without end, and it is His blood that imparts to me, not only righteousness in the eyes of Almighty God, but everlasting grace for what I often make to be a very rough journey. I am, without a doubt, God’s very troubled child. And yet, He gives more grace.
Scripture tells us in John 16:33 that “in this world you will have trouble.” That’s a promise of God that we may find increasingly difficult to embrace. Even though we’re promised trouble in John 16, there’s still solace to be found in that verse. It ends by saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” But, even with the great ending, there’s still trouble.
For the realist, and the Bible literalist, a thorough examination of Scripture does not reveal the life of the follower of Christ to be a casual walk through a beautiful park. Instead, it directly points to difficulty. These are the things that we don’t like to discuss; these are the things that dive deeper than the flimsy superficiality that defines where most people exist in their walk with God. It's unfortunate, but it's true. Consequently, these are truths that must be reckoned, as we count the cost of genuine and life-transforming faith in God. Are you ready for trouble? Be ready; trouble will come, and it will come with conviction. Let it arrive and find us all focused on the magnificent relationship that God desires with us all...firmly focused on victory and not living a life of distracted and defeated faith.
If we peruse history, we will often find a perplexed and unstable world that has developed a solid tolerance for trouble. In fact, I believe our world has an appetite for trouble. It’s a reflection of sin, and it fulfills the the promise of John 16:33. Specifically, we see the troubled world targeting the often distracted children of God. Whether it’s the petty controversy of saying “Merry Christmas” or the holocaust of tortured and beheaded Christians across the globe, trouble arrives in earnest at the doorstep of those who claim the lordship of Christ. And, again, it’s a promised trouble…a prophecy of spiritual and physical battle that is being played out with conviction in our current era. Sadly, it’s a battle that is being lost by many Christians…and those defeats are increasingly slipping under their radar.
On a more intimate level, we all experience personal battles daily. The same trouble that has inundated our world, and saturates the evening news reports, also penetrates into our own lives. Why? Because that trouble is authored by the eternal adversary of God, a fallen angel intent on damaging that which God holds most precious…His children. We are all at risk, and we are all unwilling contenders in a battle between opposing forces that we often cannot even see.
It is Satan which causes us grief, and it is Satan who manipulates the sin nature in us all, a sin nature that, unfortunately, is not lying in a state of dormancy. It is Satan’s daily intention to separate us from the only power that will sustain us…the power of our personal walk with Almighty God. He uses world events, people, finances, pride, prejudice, and a myriad of other devices to accomplish his destructive will upon our life. Mainly, he uses our diminishing ability to stay focused on our relationship with God.
Decoupling us from a close relationship with our Creator is his goal, and he’s very good at it. Let’s be clear; it’s not just a battle; it’s an all out war, and it’s being successfully waged around us on a moment by moment basis. Often, we don’t even have a recognition that it’s taking place, and that fact alone is evidence that Satan has already managed to create the disconnect. He’s already distracted us from a sovereign and eternal God. We should be more aware. As the world descends into complacency and apostasy regarding Godliness, let’s understand that things are not out of hand. As our own personal spiritual battles rage within, know that we are not abandoned.
Isaiah 43:1-3, says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
We may often lose the personal battles that Satan wages against our spirit. Those defeats do not reflect upon an inability of God to fulfill the promises of Isaiah 43; instead, those defeats are evidence of a disconnect in the continuity of our daily walk with God, a distracted and disoriented faith. And, let’s be sure to understand that it is not God who became distracted and haphazardly ventured away from us. The gap in relationship is always created by our own distraction, and that distraction always leads to a defeat…for many, a lifetime of unnecessary trouble and defeat, marked by superficial interaction with an Almighty God who is pleading with them for real relationship.
When trouble arrives, don’t cling loosely to the promises of God simply because you read them in your Bible or you heard them verbalized in your church. Don't experience difficulty and share posters of great Biblical truth on Facebook thinking that will make a difference, because it won't. Claiming the promises of God in the absence of a relevant and growing relationship with Him makes the promises nothing more than a narrative of “feel good” phrases that we really don’t understand. We have too much of that bland and nominal Christianity taking place now. Instead, we should understand that our walk with God is more than a religious affiliation. Our call is to absorb into our life a daily and intimate walk with God that is relevant. The cry of Scripture is for us to lead a life that exists under the shadow of the Almighty, and in complete and lasting dependance on His power and authority over us and our situations. Our greatest need is God, and our relationship with Him should be intimate; it should be focused; it should be relevant, and it should be growing.
It is only in that intimacy where we will begin to understand what the promises of God really mean to us in the real world. Happy posters on Facebook and verses quoted out of context (and out of relationship) are not manifestation of the fulfilled promises of an eternal God. Frankly, those promises don’t always translate into our own greedy ideas of happiness. God doesn’t always resolve our troubles in a manner that satiates our self-absorbed will. Sometimes, God allows the problems to persist, and we’re seeing that more and more in our modern culture. But, it is through those problems where the real power of God is often revealed. Instead of distraction, the difficulties of life should serve to refine our focus on God, for it is though these “promised troubles” that His sovereignty is proven as the genuine Overcomer of the World (John 16:33).
There’s a saying, “Life is hard, but God is good.” I agree with that statement. Consequently, if we are living out our relationship with God in a state of haphazardly sinful distraction, then, to us, “life may just be hard.”
Distracted faith is dangerous, because it enables us to undertake life on our own terms and feel good about it. We believe in God, and we claim His promises, but there’s a subtle disconnect in our walk with God that encourages an independence from Him that was never intentioned. That independence leads us headlong into a world of promised trouble, empowered by the promises of God, but devoid of a relevant relationship that will help us understand how those promises fit into the context of God's perfect will for our life. We spend more time contemplating the distractions than we do the victory found in a deep and meaningful walk with God. This is dangerous, and Satan knows better than anyone how to us a distracted faith against the precious child of God.
The goodness of God can be found within the difficulties of life, if we pay attention, because the goodness of God is everywhere. He created us, not to lose, but to win; however, a victorious life is only found in Him. And, that victory is only realized when our relationship with Him is strong, because often our victory comes through trouble…
2 Corinthians 4:7-12;16-18 says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. ...Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Reflect on this:
Romans 8: 35-38 (NIV)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Live in the fullness of meaningful relationship with God. Trouble will come, and Satan is always at work among us. God has created us to be victorious. The Christian life is not one of evasion and skittish superficial faith, but it is a life of conquest, grounded in Christ, and focused on the power of our Creator. Scripture tell us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."
One of our greatest weaknesses is our ability to become distracted by trouble. Stay focused, for the battle is not ours, but God's.
I just wanted to take a moment and give everyone a little update on my Dad. It’s been a while since my last message regarding his recovery. I guess it’s been too long for some, because I’ve been scolded by a few of you asking about his health! To say that he’s doing great would be an understatement; he’s doing much better than great! It’s been an amazing to watch!
Dad left home on October 14, 2016, while undergoing a catastrophic heart failure event, and he was released from the rehab facility 70 days later on December 22, 2016…just in time for Christmas! And, the miracles continued. He was released by his cardiac surgeon following just one visit. He was then released by his cardiologist following a single visit, with a follow-up exam scheduled in one year. Both exams revealed a heart that was no longer in distress and a man who, despite all that he had been through, was healthy. It defies imagination, and it’s been incredible to watch God orchestrate every detail of this often difficult journey. From start to finish, it’s been an amazing story…one that I certainly have no desire to repeat, but amazing all the same.
Today, it’s February 10, 2018, and Dad is continuing to get stronger everyday. His cardiac walker sits idle today, because he no longer needs it. He is still occasionally using a cane, but my understanding is that it’s not a necessity. Let’s be clear; he isn’t chopping wood or running marathons, but his recovery is well into the final stages, and he is quickly approaching a life of health and vitality that couldn’t even be envisioned on the evening of October 14, 2016. It’s a new day for my father…a new day for our entire family, and it’s all a reflection of God’s amazing grace. It's a grace that none of us deserve, but it's given so freely that I fear we often cheapen it's worth. But, He gives more grace.
I thank God for my parents. We have a special relationship, and I’m blessed beyond imagination to be their son. As I sit back and think about everything that has happened, I can see God’s hand in every nuanced detail, and I am thankful that God pays attention to those little details. He’s been much more than good in every respect. I continue to stand amazed.
Honestly, I really don’t have anything else to share with you at the moment, except that Dad is strong, active, and very much enjoying his life back at home. It’s a pleasure to visit with them and see both of my parents doing so well, and they are, in fact, doing very well! I will be using a little vacation time next week, starting on Monday, and I will be joining them until at least Saturday evening…possibly a few days longer, and I can’t wait. Dad already has some projects lined up for us to do around their home, but I won’t be doing them…we’ll be doing them together! Nothing could make me any happier!
Please continue to keep Dad and Mom in your prayers, but rest assured that he is doing awesome in every respect. I am thankful to say that he is probably healthier today than he’s been in over a decade. He’s a walking miracle whose restored health reflects the glory of an awesome, awesome God. It's something that only God could have done.
Isaiah 61:3 says, “...and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
Only God is capable of turning our ashes into something of beauty, our sadness and despair into joy, and use it all as a display of the splendor only found in Him. So, with every breath, in sickness or in health, in poverty or in riches, in sadness or in joy…give praise to the God who controls it all.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” – Psalm 150:6 (NIV)
Are you a fearful person? Do you live your life in a constant state of worry and stress? Are you forever existing in a guarded mindset, posturing yourself to flee from the things that could harm you? Do you examine everything from the standpoint of your fear? Does your anxiety exert more pressure on your actions and decisions than your faith in God?
Many people live their lives in just this fashion. Skittish. Fearful. Worried. Anxious. The weight of life and the many problems it holds has completely subdued them. Consequently, they cling tightly to a mentality of personalized fear and stress that literally chokes the happiness, joy, and productivity right out of their life. They are always running scared and afraid to act.
There are certainly things in life that bring about reasonable fear. In October, my father experienced a complete heart failure. It scared me; it scared him; it scared my entire family. That situation brought about in me a capacity to fear that I wasn’t even aware I possessed, and along with those fears came stress, worry, anxiety, and the depressing emotions that tend to run complimentary to such feelings. My dad is alive and well, and he’s doing great, but, for a few months, I lived in varying degrees of fearfulness and anxiety regarding his situation. My sight had shifted from the strength of my position in God, through Christ, and it was focused more on the weakness of my own inability in a seemingly desperate situation. Shame on me.
Let me get straight to the point. Fear is exceptionally easy to come by for most of us. We’re easily startled, easily stressed, and our minds so easily tend to envision vivid depictions of “the worst.” If something is already bad, we seem to be able to supernaturally transform it into something of epic negativity in our own minds…something that may bring about an end to human happiness as we know it. We become overwhelmed; our faith shuts down, and we lie helpless at the altar of circumstance. Where is our recognition of God in this situation?
For many in our country, there’s a permanently embedded fear of the political system. Do you fear Donald Trump? Do you fear his policies? Do you fear what he may or may not do with the power and prestige of the presidency or our nation? Consequently, many in our nation feared Hillary Clinton and the continuation of current policies. It’s certainly easy to fear the I.R.S. Do we fear I.S.I.S.? Do we fear sickness or death? The gamut of our fears is long; it’s deep; it’s wide, and it’s incredibly diverse. It’s also very personalized. One person may desperately fear something that brings great enjoyment to another person. It’s all a matter of the internal examination of what we can and cannot tolerate, depending upon our own comfort zone. For most, that comfort zone is tiny.
But what does God say regarding fear?
The Bible is full of instruction where this topic is concerned. Some of my favorite verses dealing with fear are below:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7
“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
– Psalm 23:4
These are just a few; there’s many more, but let’s look briefly at a great verse that I love to reference when my own fears begin to emerge. It's beautiful, and the promises it holds are deep...
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty (Shaddai). I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” … He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you… For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways… “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” – Psalm 91:1-2,4-7,11,14-15 (NIV)
I love this passage because of the eloquence of the promises made within and the foundation it lays out for living a fearless life. In this particular blog post, we’re just going to look at verse 1. I’ll go through this complete passage in upcoming posts, but, today, let’s just look at verse 1…
In verse one, the preface is made for protection and fearless living, and notice that it is set aside for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High.” This promise of protection isn’t made to those who reject Christ, but only to those who dwell in Him. Ultimately, we should acknowledge that it’s not really made to the Christian who is living apart from an intimate relationship with God. Close relationship is much more important than most people tend to make it. The closeness of our relationship with God triggers the actions and the promises of God for those who love and pursue Him. With that knowledge, I absolutely love the way this passage is worded…“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” What an incredible passage of Scripture!
The word “dwell” in this verse is, ‘yashab,’ meaning ‘to inhabit.’ When we make Christ the Lord of our life, and then purposefully move into a deeper relationship with Him (dwelling in the shelter), we have then chosen Him as our "home"…abiding (or literally living) in His presence. He is where we live, where we return, where we rest and recharge, and where we find our peace and safety. There’s power in intimacy and deep relationship with the Almighty. It’s a place where fear dies. It’s a place of spiritual, emotional, and physical rest that cannot be reproduced by temporal devices. The power of the inhabiting presence of God through deep, purposed, and meaningful relationship with Him is undeniable.
Is God our dwelling place? Is it from Him that we derive our call, our security, and our world view? Do we return to Him daily, in the shadow of His presence and protection, to recharge from the difficulties and fears of life?
Having made God our dwelling place, we have a great promise of “rest” in the shadow of Almighty God. This verse gives me chills. This "rest" is, ‘batach,’ and it means ‘trust’ or ‘security.’ We could rewrite this verse by saying, ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will find security in the shadow of the Almighty.’
In a world where there’s no deficit of the things that bring about great fear, we need not be afraid. If we’re dwelling and abiding with God, He is our shelter, our trust, and our secure resting place. It is by Him that our lives our authored, and it is in Him, and only in Him, where true rest, protection, and security can be found.
That’s enough for today, but think on that. Our life, abiding in God through Christ Jesus, is under the protective shadow of Almighty God. Fear is a wasted thought under the shadow of God. As we walk through life, let’s be sure to understand Satan’s ploy of injecting fear into our circumstances. Fear is debilitating; God is rejuvenating. Let go of fear; it has no place in the life of a child of God. Fear and faith cannot occupy the same space. Choose one, and make your choice based off of your position under the shadow of the protection of a God so great.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!