MERRY WEDNESDAY by PARRIS
“Oh, you’ll see the king – a beautiful sight! And you’ll take in the wide vistas of land” Isaiah 17:33
Jonathan Edwards was known by many things. To some you read of him in your history books talking about a terrible God that dangles you like a spider over the fiery pit of hell. To theologians he is known for his deep theology and intellectual thinking. But to me, he is known for describing God like no other. He called it the “BEATIFIC VISION” which is simply having intuitive, unmediated, and unprecedented apprehension of the beauty of God. When God touched me deeply over 20 years ago, I begin to read his books and it opened up a whole new world of beauty within beauty. The never ending ocean of the love of God! One could say it’s having a sixth sense to see the things of this world. Jesus said “in the world but not of it”.
John Piper speaking of grace and the love of God said, “Is there a specified quantity to God’s kindness that will slowly diminish and someday run dry? The point of Paul’s effusive language is to emphasize that the grace of God in Christ is endlessly infinite, endlessly complex, endlessly deep, endlessly new, endlessly fresh, endlessly profound. God is infinite. Therefore, so too are his attributes. Throughout the ages to come, forever and ever, we will be the recipients each instant of an ever increasing and more stunning, more fascinating, and thus inescapably more enjoyable display of God’s grace than before. The essence of heaven is the vision of God and the eternal increase of joy in him.”
Every year for the past twenty years Frank and I go to Maggie Valley in the summer months to get out of Nola heat and visit my mom nestled up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is situated up in 3500 elevation with a view that takes your breath away. In those 20 years my kids have grown up walking in the woods, picking blackberries and making pies to die for, or walking to a secret garden that is filled with waterfalls filled with ferns birds rocks or looking for bears that just might visit us in her yard, or an elk might wonder by. Also in these 20 years there is a potter that sits at his wheel and makes pottery sharing his story of Christ being the potter. I am embarrassed to admit just how much of his pottery I have. Every time I have visited there, we four ( My mom and I and his mom) have been sharing our Christ stories while catching up with news of each others families. I went there for Katrina and he always asks about our church and the women’s restoration center.
But today while in his shop, I begin to tear up as he talked of a special time where he sat in his mudroom making yet another special piece. He had his apron on, full of pottery dust, his hair graying and in the background I couldn’t help but to see the potter’s wheel and the unglazed pottery sitting there waiting to be burnt by beauty. It seemed Christ had walked into the shop, while others were unaware, I became frapped in the love of God. One special moment in time awed by the cycle of life.
He is near, he is close.
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.
Eph. 2:8,9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I have to laugh thinking back about the CD cover of one of our Victory Fellowship music projects called ON AND ON. It was a photograph of someone (actually it was Missionary James Widener) fully clothed and swimming in the bottomless ocean of God’s love. We were in an unusual season of outpouring at our church and it seemed as if we had all fallen into the bottomless, shoreless ocean of God’s grace. Augustine taught that this grace (his term – sovereign grace) had a profound effect on our soul. It was so sweet and so powerful that it changed the very desires of our heart. It was not only grace that covered us but grace that changed and satisfied our thirsty souls. This grace issues from God Himself and is infinite in nature. Here is how Charles Spurgeon describes it.
“It is not because of anything in them, or that ever can be in them, that they are saved; but because of the boundless love, goodness, pity, compassion, mercy, and grace of God. Tarry a moment, then, at the well-head. Behold the pure river of water of life, as it proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb! What an abyss is the grace of God! Who can measure its breadth? Who can fathom its depth? Like all the rest of the divine attributes, it is infinite.
God is full of love, for “God is love.” God is full of goodness; the very name “God” is short for “good.” Unbounded goodness and love enter into the very essence of the Godhead. It is because “his mercy endureth for ever” that men are not destroyed; because “his compassions fail not” that sinners are brought to Him and forgiven.”
Falling into this bottomless ocean can be catastrophic to our old plans and way of life. The taste of His grace is our first taste of true authenticity that we have ever known. It attracts us, covers us, converts us, satisfies us, and sustains us. From our first encounter with the grace of God the attractions of this world seem pitiful because we see them for what they are. So go ahead and dive in, you might have a reluctance like hesitating on the edge of a cold swimming pool but once you get in you will never want to come out.
Rom. 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Most every Christian I know has a similar story, Christianity was not anything like they thought and His love was the biggest surprise of all. He loved us just because. His love was not connected to anything we did; actually, He loved us despite what we did or the way we lived our lives. Salvation came as an absolute gift. Nothing I could do could earn it, nothing I could not do would disqualify me. My righteousness is totally non-related to my life, my salvation can’t be based on my performance. Righteousness and the gift of salvation is simply that, a free gift. It is never earned or deserved. The one requirement; we receive His gift by faith. That’s the easy part and also the hard part, we have to get passed the stumbling stone of trying to do something to please God. Here is Martin Luther’s famous story and how he discovered the just shall live by faith.
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”
This was so shocking to me; I remember thinking, “That’s it, there’s nothing I need to do?” No that is it, there is nothing we can do. We are saved by grace alone by faith alone and that too is a gift from God. So this Christmas let’s celebrate the greatest of all Christmas presents, the gift of God’s love we receive through His Son.
John 1:16 For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift.
God’s infinite nature is being demonstrated all around us. One look out into the sky and His endless nature is on full display. The magnitude of the universe is beyond comprehension to the greatest minds among us. Then you can examine His daily, lavish provision for His creatures. How much krill do the whales eat, or how many shrimp do the fish consume daily, or the insects for the birds, or food for the seven billion humans ? Then there is this issue of endless grace for sinners. David sang that the Lord is good and His mercy is everlasting. Ceaseless grace, grace upon grace; that is what we receive from Christ. Here is how Spurgeon calls it.
“His gifts are beyond measure precious, and are as freely given as the light of the sun. He gives grace to his elect because he wills it, to his redeemed because of his covenant, to the called because of his promise, to believers because they seek it, to sinners because they need it. He gives grace abundantly, seasonably, constantly, readily, sovereignly; doubly enhancing the value of the boon by the manner of its bestowal. Grace in all its forms he freely renders to his people: comforting, preserving, sanctifying, directing, instructing, assisting grace, he generously pours into their souls without ceasing, and he always will do so, whatever may occur. Sickness may befall, but the Lord will give grace; poverty may happen to us, but grace will surely be afforded; death must come but grace will light a candle at the darkest hour. Reader, how blessed it is as years roll round, and the leaves begin again to fall, to enjoy such an unfading promise as this, The Lord will give grace.”
God’s infinite nature is shown at its brightest in His abundance of grace being poured upon this fallen race of humans. We are born again by His grace, sustained daily by His grace, inspired by His grace, and finally we are kept in the worst of times by His unlimited grace. It is new every morning and never grows stale. Regardless of what you are facing today, His grace is more than enough.
Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
I can remember the fog of unbelief that shrouded the vision of Christ from my heart for many years. It was the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit that blew the fog from my senses and created an atmosphere of faith in my life. It wasn’t a struggle or a labor for faith, suddenly Christ was real to me. As I yielded my heart and life to this new found love, a sense of His immensity began to fill my life. I often wonder how it started and why it started in my life. My only conclusion is that I was set apart by God by the work of His Spirit. It wasn’t anything in me that started the process in motion, it was strictly His sovereign pleasure. He loved me and wanted me in His plan. Just as Paul said in today’s verse, faith is a shear gift from God. Here are some thoughts from Andrew Murray about God’s gift of faith.
“True faith bows before God in the deep realization of His greatness, of His power to work wonders in our hearts, and of His loving care for us. We must be convinced of our utter inability to produce on our own this love, which is holy and can conquer sin and unbelief. We need a burning desire to receive instead this heavenly love into our hearts, whatever the cost may be. Then we shall gain an insight into God’s Word as a living power in our hearts. This supernatural power is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit living and working within us. It is not something that we can generate in our own strength.”
So if this all makes sense to you and you have entered into this world of faith please don’t allow apathy to set in and steal the beauty and freshness of His incredible love. After you enter the world of faith by God’s gracious gift the work of faith begins. We labor at entering into this rest of faith. What do I mean? We must press in by searching the scriptures daily. He lives and walks in the pages of the Bible and will meet us regularly there. We must also labor by stirring up the gift of God in our lives. How do you do that? For me the easiest way is to pray in my heavenly language and live in an atmosphere of worship. The Word and the Spirit, this is how we walk in faith.
Eph. 1:7 ¶ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
Grace is the message of the New Testament. It was the nucleus of the preaching of the Apostle Paul which literally turned the world upside down in his day. Grace was also at the epicenter of the Protestant Reformation. An Augustinian, Catholic monk, by the name of Martin Luther unleashed a spiritual atomic blast with his teachings on “the just shall live by faith”. Justification by grace alone through faith alone became the earmark of the reformation. That message not only birthed the reformation but ultimately led to the struggle with the Puritans that birthed the United States of America. I am not saying that all of our founders were Christians, I am just saying the driving force behind our beginning was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is so amazing about grace that it causes the upheaval of nations? Really, it is a two fold message. First, it offers cleansing and forgiveness for every sin. There is no sin too dark that it doesn’t wash us clean. Secondly, it changes the very core of our being. Our desires change. Our desire for sinful pleasures are replaced with a passion for the Lord Himself. In other words grace leads to sanctification or holiness. My definition of holiness is this; holiness is the testimony of God’s grace. Here is how Adam Clarke explained this phenomenon in the Methodist revival.
“Ye are sanctified; ye are separated from earthly things to be connected with spiritual. Ye are separated from time to be connected with eternity. Ye are separated from idols to be joined to the living God. Separation from common, earthly, or sinful uses, to be wholly employed in the service of the true God, is the ideal meaning of this word, both in the Old and New Testaments. It was in consequence of their being separated from the world that they became a Church of God. Ye were formerly workers of iniquity, and associated with workers of iniquity; but now ye are separated from them, and united together to work out your salvation with fear and trembling before God.”
So grace causes an upheaval like nothing else. Criminals become pastors, pimps become protectors of virtue, prostitutes become holy women of God, and common thieves become funders of ministries and churches. Our present society needs a good infusion of grace; the kind of grace that changes lives from sinners to saints. Do it again Lord!!!