Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.

 

A Beautiful Inheritance

(I wrote this short devotional a little while ago, but Tuesday, I started a wonderful Bible study on the book of Ephesians, and the whole concept seems fresh again. I wanted to share it with you.) 

Ephesians 1:13b-14 “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—“.

My parents are moving across the street from the house they lived in for 17 years. No, it’s not a distant move, but all the same, it has given them an opportunity to get rid of old stuff that was long-since forgotten. It has also made them think about what things they want to save and pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Have you ever received an inheritance? What was it? Who was it from? Did you receive things that are precious to you, or did something you valued very much get given away?

In Romans 8:14-17, the Bible explains that when we believe in Jesus Christ, God adopts us as His own children, making us heirs to all of His riches. A little further down in verse 32, it says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

When it comes to our inheritance from God through Christ Jesus, we receive everything! Nothing is lost, nothing that we need or long for is withheld. He has given us absolutely everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

The Bible is the full record of everything God has given us through Christ. It’s time to explore your inheritance!

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16

Clean Forever

river-scene-2-1413837-mHow often do you take a shower? Hopefully more than once in a lifetime.

How often do you cleanse yourself from sin? How do you do that anyway?

There are some pretty scary verses in the Bible that demand that we be cleansed from sin. According to 2 Corinthians 6:17 and 7:1, unless we are cleansed from sin, we cannot take full advantage of God’s awesome promises. In 2 Corinthians 6:16,18 Paul spells out several of God’s promises, enough to us really excited:

I will live among them

I will walk among them

I will be their God

They will be my people

I will welcome you

I will be your Father

You will be my sons and daughters

Sounds great right? Until you turn the page and find the caveat at the beginning of chapter seven: “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.”

It’s that little word cleanse that scares me. I know that God is holy; how can I ever be pure enough, clean enough, pure and virtuous enough to lay hold of those awesome promises? I want to know God as Father, to be welcomed by Him and to walk and talk with Him. But even if I’m good and clean enough for one day, what about tomorrow when I mess up again?

I wonder if ancient Israel dealt with such fears and guilt under the sacrificial system. After all, the priest constantly offered sacrifices and burnt offerings. Every Israelite knew they would break God’s law again, but they also knew there would always be one more lamb slaughtered for their sins. Day after day, week after week, year after year, they could walk away from the temple confident that they had cleansed themselves from sin in the blood of a lamb. God washed away their filth in an animal’s blood and once again they walked in God’s favor. All of God’s promises for protection, deliverance, health and provision were theirs.

So what about now? How do we cleanse ourselves? How can we be comforted in knowing that today’s sin and tomorrow’s sin is washed away as completely as yesterday’s sin, so that we can claim the sweet and precious promises of God?

As a whole, in the modern church, we act as if we are cleansed at salvation—that glorious, single moment when we prayed and accepted Christ’s payment for our sins. But then, we must keep ourselves clean. We stand from our knees determined to be better, purer, more God-honoring, cleaner people with set-apart lives. But uh-oh, merely 30 seconds later, or maybe it’s 30 minutes or 30 days—but sooner or later we feel filthy, tarnished and unfit all over again. For us, there’s no behavior, no lamb or other sacrifice or ritual we can perform to make us feel clean again. Are we doomed?

The word cleanse in 2 Corinthians 7:1 is katharizo. It means “to clean, cure, free from sin and guilt; to purify.” It is actually used over and over again throughout the Bible and many times in the Gospels.

The interesting thing about the use of the word katharizo in the Gospels is that it nearly always refers to something Jesus did. Specifically, this is the word used when Jesus healed lepers. Cleansing is an action performed by Jesus Christ. 

So how then can we “cleanse ourselves” as 2 Corinthians instructs, since we are obviously hopeless to keep ourselves clean? We cleanse ourselves from earthly things and sins, just as the ancient Hebrews did: we come again with the Lamb to the Father’s throne. No, Jesus doesn’t die again, His sacrifice was once for all, supremely more powerful than the blood of bulls and goats. (Hebrews 10:1-10)

When we come to the throne with Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice, the Father again—and over and over again for all our past, present and future failures—sees Christ’s sacrifice and deems us clean. The only way we do this, when we fail, is to anchor ourselves again in the knowledge that we ARE clean, because of Jesus.

We cleanse ourselves not by working to “stay clean” but by repeatedly coming, grateful and humble to the cleaner.

Below are several more verses that bear this out. I encourage you to look them up, dig The Word yourself and discover your ever-compete cleanliness.

Revelation 7:14, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 9:12-14, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 5:26,

Titus 2:14, Hebrews 9:14, 1 John 1:7, 9

One Way to Love Your Enemy

“…for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20 (ESV)

How are you feeling as you merge back into life after the hectic holidays? As wonderful as fellowship with family and friends can be, it often includes sharing close quarters with at least one person who seems to bring out the worst in us. Along with hallowed hymns and scrumptious side dishes, we find a healthy serving of tension and stifle the grumblings of bitterness. How do we deal with these feelings? How do we overcome the unwelcome irritation?
The Biblical character, Abigail, gives us an example of the godly, effective way to deal with these relationships. I Samuel 25, tells us that Abigail was married to a harsh and selfish man named Nabal. When Nabal’s foolish behavior got their whole household into trouble, Abigail’s response was not accuse him or retaliate against him. Instead, she sought his good! Abigail set out to preserve and protect her household.
The godly response when faced with negative, frustrating people is to seek their good. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” 1 Corinthians 10:24. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Bitterness, arguments and defensiveness do not produce the righteous life that God desires. However, when see turn the other cheek and act in kindness toward those who hurt us, God will honor us and receive the glory.

Keep your eyes open for my upcoming Bible study, Beyond Belief, due on June 2, 2015.

When God Throws an Air Ball

Some times God throws the perfect layup—a perfect opportunity. We see what we assume is His will from a mile away. We’re grateful and we’re ready to go. Then suddenly, it falls short.

And we wonder, What is God doing? What went wrong?

A friend of mine’s husband has been without a job for almost three months now. The long anticipated return call finally came. The job he had most wanted came through. Could he start next week?

The following Monday, he arrived early, checked in with his new boss and prepared to go to work. Looking sheepish, the boss pulled him aside. Something came up, he said. Something in the paperwork, something that my friend’s husband thought had long been resolved, they were sorry, but he couldn’t work there.

The news crushed them. Everything had seemed so perfect! What had gone wrong?

It isn’t always a job. Perhaps you met the “perfect” person, but then the whole relationship fell apart. Maybe you’re expecting a baby and you’re so excited, but there’s a miscarriage. Maybe you’ve planned the perfect wedding and then find yourself standing in front of the justice of the peace.

Whatever it is, sometimes God throws the perfect layup, and then it falls short. 

God doesn’t always offer personal explanations, but Scripture is always the light to our path. In this case, a story from David’s life gives insight into the confusion.

David was a young shepherd, probably about 12-years-old when Samuel, the prophet, came to his father, Jesse. Samuel announced that one of Jesse’s sons would be the new king of Israel. Obediently, seven of Jesse’s sons marched in front of the prophet, but each time God said, “He is not the one.”

Perplexed, Samuel asked if Jesse had any more sons. Jesse admitted there was one more, a scrawny shepherd named David.

When David arrived, God told Samuel, “This is him! This is the one I want you to anoint as the King of Israel!” Quickly, Samuel did as he was told.

Logically, we might imagine that Samuel pulled a crown out of his bag, put it on David’s head and marched him to the castle. David should have begun ruling right away! But that didn’t happen. In 1 Samuel 16:13, Samuel turned around and went home. In the very next chapter, we find David back in the fields with the sheep.

I wonder if David asked God, “Why? Why do I, the King of Israel, have to go back to the sheep pen? And how long do I have to wait, God?”

Many years down the line, David did rule over Israel; he was the best king Israel ever had. God called David, “A man after my own heart.”

The Bible never tells us exactly why God made David wait for so long. We do know that in those waiting years, David was filled with the Holy Spirit. He wrote many of the Psalms during that time, singing and sharing his praise for God. He made many good, godly friends in that time too.

We will not always agree with or even understand God’s reason for toppling perfect plans, altering the natural course of things or seeming to change His mind. At times, it may seem like He has misled us. David must have felt that way after being anointed king and then sent back to the fields. Later he was called to the palace merely to serve King Saul by playing the harp.

Even after David took the throne, there was never any explanation as to why God anointed him and then sent him back to being a shepherd. If David had been king right away, perhaps Israel would have avoided many wars and a lot of blood shed. David never would have been hunted by Saul. But the end of the story is that David became a man after God’s own heart and God abundantly blessed him.

Even when things don’t make sense, the end of the story is always that God is working things for our good. He is always faithful and all that He does in our lives is out of His lovingkindness. As we learn to wait through the confusion, we will become men and women after His own heart.