GRACE AND PEACE

Gal. 1:3 ¶ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 

Two of the most influential voices in the development of Western Civilization is the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther. Actually, Luther was a preacher of the Apostolic message of the Apostle Paul, “the just shall live by faith”. Luther’s story is quite classic. He was an Augustinian monk who desperately wanted to please God. He spent years in strict adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church in his day that required an austere system of works that left Luther frustrated. He said that he hammered on the teachings of Paul and hated the concept of the righteousness of God. No matter how hard Luther persisted in his self denial and rigid practice of the requirements of the church he felt condemned by his own conscience and failure to attain to the righteousness of God. In a moment of time Luther saw it. It was righteousness that comes by faith in Christ. Righteousness was a gift of grace, not something anyone could earn. Finally he was at peace, he had found peace with God by grace through faith. Here are some of Luther’s thoughts on today’s verse. 

“Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.”
I can remember the horrible torment of my guilty conscience. One of the proofs to me of the reality of my Christian faith was the incredible peace that came in me and upon me after I believed in Jesus Christ. No longer was shame and guilt hammering away at me, I had found acceptance with God; for me, nothing else could ever matter. 

CENTERED

Ye are the light of the world.
Matthew 5:14

I have some really great memories of my early Christian years. Excitement about sharing our faith in Christ was in the air. It wasn’t just the professional ministers that preached Christ, it was the pleasure of all Christians. In my first semester of Bible School (I started two weeks after my conversion) I was given several powerful tools to win Christ. First, our Bible College published a number of very good gospel tracts. We were taught to carry them everywhere with us and distributing them was a way of life. We were also taught how to share the basic plan of salvation using Bible verses. Those scriptures are still part of my arsenal. Presenting Christ as the only way of salvation became our passion and shaped all of our lives. We all were full time Bible students and had full time jobs to support ourselves, yet sharing our faith was the unquestioned part of our daily lives. We never considered that preaching Christ was just for the professionals. Here are some thoughts from Watchman Née evangelism as a way of life.
“Some ask, should they preach, or should they seek employment in a profession or trade? Are there two roads in front of a child of God? Where in Scripture do we find such alternatives: to preach or find work? Is it a choice we are called upon to make? God’s people are a lamp for witness. Is there then a Christian who is not to witness? It cannot be that a few preach, while in some mysterious sense all are the lamp. No, there is a living witness for God on earth, and for that I live. This is the one road for us all, and there is no other. None can be the Lord’s and not testify to him. All must preach Christ; that is the big thing. It is a secondary question whether all the time is to be given to it or some spent in breadwinning. For everything turns on where our center is. God cannot use one who adds preaching to business; He can use one who adds business to preaching. It simply depends which side the addition is on! God, not our business, is to be the center of our lives.”
To some, Nee’s statements might seem radical. To those who are radically saved it sounds like the normal Christian life. Lord, pour out a passion for the lost on us again!

STEP BY STEP

Gal. 5:25 ESV ¶ If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

I love the way this verse reads in the ESV translation of the New Testament. This verse describes living in the power of the Spirit to a step by step endeavor. It’s not being filled somewhere in the past or in a recent church meeting, this verse describes being continually filled with the Spirit so that our steps are empowered by the Lord. Now some will say if you are a Christian the Spirit is always in you. Technically and theologically that is true. The problem is this what we have legally doesn’t find its way into our lives consistently. The remedy? Continual fillings, daily walking by the Spirit, is the only way to realize the victorious Christian life. Without His power daily we stumble into different versions of ungodly behavior. As a result, many will alter their definition of grace to fit their experience. We must be filled and filled again to walk in Christlike holiness. Holiness is not a legalistic word, it is a description of one who is in step with the Spirit. Here are some thoughts from the Life in the Spirit NT Commentary.

“Paul’s mandate for holy living is not a new legalism. On the contrary, true holiness can only be wrought by the Spirit of holiness. Hence in Galatians 5:25, Paul exhorts, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” This verse is better translated, “If in fact we are living by the Spirit, then we ought also to walk by the Spirit.” Holiness is a lifestyle that is completely governed by the dictates of God’s Spirit. The word translated “keep in step” (stoichomeri) is derived from stoichos, meaning a “row” or a “line.” So those who submit to the Spirit literally have their steps ordered by the Spirit. Narcissism has no place in the Spirit-filled life. Any self-promotion distorts the body of Christ and casts the sincere contribution of others in a poor light. In turn this “false image” incites others to carnal ambition and petty jealousy. The failure of one tends to implicate all.”

Soooooo, let’s be filled with the Spirit on a daily basis. Spirit filled living is what the New Testament describes. Rather than comparing our behavior to the culture around us, let Christ Himself be formed in us by the Holy Spirit. How can we do that? STEP BY STEP.

SATURATING RAIN

Joel 2:23 ¶ “Be glad, O children of Zion,
and rejoice in the LORD your God,

for he has given the early rain for your vindication;

he has poured down for you abundant rain,

the early and the latter rain, as before.

I love saturation services. If you are not familiar with the term, it is just referring to services where the focus is on the presence of God and you spend time saturating in His presence. Today’s scripture refers to the early and the latter rain that would come upon Israel. These rains were the reason why Israel was a special place. It was known as the land flowing with milk and honey. The reason? The key was these seasonal rains that caused the land to produce an incredible harvest. Peter preached from this passage on the day of Pentecost. He said that these rains were prophetic, proclaiming the last day outpouring of the Spirit on all mankind.

Twice a year we have a week of meetings at our church that we call saturation services. We are currently in one of those seasons and are basking in the outpouring of His glory on our church.

Rain has an effect on the world we live in; so does the rain of the Spirit.

One of the beautiful effects of rain is cleansing. It cleanses the atmosphere and cleanses the dust that gathers from day to day in our world. In the same way the rain of the Spirit cleanses us. It washes away the past from our conscience as well as the day to day dust that accumulates on our lives. Saturating in His presence has a major cleansing effect on us, without it we old become overcome with the filth of the world. Rain also brings refreshing from the effects of heat. This summer has been an unusually rainy summer in New Orleans. One of the results is that we have not been overcome with the blasted heat that characterizes this time of year. The rain of the Spirit has a similar effect on us; we may feel exhausted from all of our day to day responsibilities but stepping into His saturating rain begins to bring His refreshing and recovery into our lives. Finally, rain brings fertile land and harvest. Israel was know for their incredible crops. Their harvest was directly connected to their seasonal rain. The rain of the Spirit is preparing the land for an incredible supernatural harvest. Step into His saturating rain. You too will become fertile ground bringing in God’s harvest in these last days.

SOULS

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:18

Has God’s love taken over your life? The first indication is your new found love for the Lord. As the Apostle John said, “We love Him because He first loved us”. The fire of God’s love is unmistakeable, true conversion results in a passion for the Lord. The second indication may be a little harder to fake; it is a love for the lost, even the unlovely; or as Jesus said “the least of these”. That’s how you really know you are converted, you begin to have a love for the lost and desire to see their lives changed. This love first shows itself as we have a strange pull to share Christ to the hurting people in our lives. This love doesn’t stop there, it continues beyond conversion until the day we see Christ formed in our lost friends and loved ones. Here is how Watchman Nee describes this love in us.

“We long to see men saved from perishing and won for God’s glory. But do we stop there? When we see three or four thousand converts—or even three or four!—all saved and all going on fairly well with the Lord, do we feel a task has been accomplished? Should we not regard it rather as a task just begun? Ought we not to ask ourselves how many of them have yet caught a glimpse of the one heavenly Man into which God has brought them? Are they still just units, fishes in the net, figures in a list of “campaign results,” or does that supreme vision possess them? It will certainly not do so unless it first possesses us. So I ask again, are we burdened, as were the apostles, to see them grow up in all things into the Head, even Christ?”
When Jesus gave His great commission to His disciples He emphasized evangelism and discipleship. In Mark’s version, He emphasized winning souls, in Matthew’s account He says to go into all the world and make disciples. Last Sunday we saw many people make a decision for Christ in our first service of Summer Saturation. The love of God compels us to finish the job, to reach out to each new visitor until Christ is formed in them.

How can we each do our part? Ask the Lord to sensitize you to the needs of people around you. As the Lord puts His love for individuals in your heart, follow His lead. Invite them to your small group, sit with them in church. Discipleship is actually the outflow of the love of God.

AWAKENED TO GOD’S ADVENTURE

Gen. 28:16 ¶ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Do you know what the presence of God is like? The thing about His presence is this, there is always more. If the Lord is infinite there can never be a time when your experience of God is final, His very nature demands that we are on an endless quest to know Him more. That was the goal of Paul’s life, Phil. 3:8,10 – “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.

In today’s verse, Jacob was surprised when he found himself suddenly in the very presence of God. It was more real than anything he had ever known before. This would be the defining moment in Jacob’s life. When you touch “Jacob’s ladder” it will be your defining moment as well. John Wesley describes the surprising nature of encounters with the Lord.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not—God’s manifestations of himself to his people carry their own evidence along with them. God can give undeniable demonstrations of his presence, such as give abundant satisfaction to the souls of the faithful, that God is with them of a truth; satisfaction not communicable to others, but convincing to themselves. We sometimes meet with God there, where we little thought of meeting with him. He is there where we did not think he had been, is found there where we asked not for him.”
So have you had your defining moment with the Lord? Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up” in the temple, for Moses it was the unquenchable burning bush, Ezekiel experienced the wheel in the middle of the wheel, and for Paul it was seeing Jesus on the Damascus Road. Where was your moment when you were surprised by God? For those who know what I mean you have to go back there time and again. I don’t mean physically, I mean visit that place in your heart. You too, like Jacob, can be awakened from your sleep to God’s wonderful adventure for your life.

MY GOD !

Gen. 28:20-22- Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.

I hope you didn’t skip the verse in today’s devotion. I know it is pretty long, but for some it could be a game changer. Jacob had just awakened from his famous dream, you know the one, the one about angels and ladders. This night was not just any night, it was Jacob’s first night away from home. Before now he was under his father Isaac’s roof, his dad was rich and Jacob worried about nothing. Now Jacob was alone. At least he thought he was alone until that dream. When he awoke he felt something he had never felt before. The very weighty presence of God was there in that place. He wasn’t alone after all. He was in the very presence of the Lord. He had to name that place, he decided to call it Bethel. Bethel means house of God. He knew he was in God’s house and God was with him.

Something special was happening that night. He had heard Grandpa Abraham’s stories about the Lord, he also heard his dad Isaac tell some stories. The one that really got Jacob was the one about the ram in the bush. The one where Jehovah Jireh provided an offering so that his dad wouldn’t have to die. He knew the Lord was the Lord of Abraham and Isaac, now he had become his God too. He was now the God of Jacob.

Jacob was beginning to get it, that’s it, Jehovah Jireh, He is my provider. That’s when he remembered what Grandpa Abraham had taught, “the first tenth of our income belongs to the Lord”. Jacob knew now what that night had been all about. The Lord would be with Jacob and take care of him in all his ways but the Lord wanted something, he wanted Jacob. That’s what the tithe is all about, the Lord wanted Jacob to put some skin in the game. He wanted the first of all of Jacob’s wealth. He was going to make Jacob wealthy, just like Abraham and Isaac, but He had to have Jacob’s heart first. It’s not good enough to know about God, He has to become your God. That happens when you find yourself in God’s presence, at the bottom of Jacob’s ladder at a place called Bethel, the house of God.