Grace

It’s Never Too Late

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We hear the testimonies of wretched sinners who have received salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. And we praise God and then we sit back to watch and see if they were serious. If we aren’t careful, we can grow a little skeptical. This may be because, in our culture, Jesus is often used a little like a rope thrown to a person hanging over the cliff—useful for a moment or two and then cast aside when the person reaches safety.

But when someone becomes genuinely saved, change is non-negotiable. It just happens. We see this very thing in the life of Manasseh.

I feel like, as the summer has moved along, I have lost quite a few Bible Challenge readers. If you are still reading, I would love to hear about it (just to remind me that there are still people plugging through these Old Testament prophets along with me!)

But, this is a great reminder for everyone– whether you have given up on the reading or not. The lessons that I learned from chapter 33 of 2 Chronicles can be summarized into two main points that I found quite helpful in the current culture we find ourselves in–

1. No one is beyond God’s grace.

Every day we hear horrible stories of great and heinous sin. We can’t imagine how man could do such evil things. And yet, even the worst of sinners is free to accept God’s great gift of salvation.

Manasseh did horrible things. In fact, he even gave his son as a human sacrifice! It is hard to imagine something worse than this. Think through how awful that is for just a moment. This is the description of Manasseh’s sinful acts–

But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven[a] and served them. He also built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.

Manasseh’s sins were grave and numerous. And the Lord speaks to him and the people about this (vs 10) but they choose not to listen. An undetermined amount of time later, Manasseh is carried away to Babylon in bronze fetters (vs. 11). There, in great affliction, he humbly repents.

And how does the Lord respond? Does He tell him I told you so? Does He let him there to wallow in the consequences of his sinful choices?

No.

Instead, our merciful God extends grace. Here’s what we read–

Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

After such great evil, God would have been justified (at least according to our human sense of fairness) to just leave Manasseh to die in Babylon, a broken and contrite man. Instead, He reached out and restored him.

What great and marvelous grace and mercy! And it is still there for us today! God is the same–yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No sinner is beyond His grace, including you! If you don’t know Him, I encourage you to reach out and be restored.

2. True conversion is followed by true life change.

Manasseh does not go back to live the same life he always lived. He grabs the rope of rescue God extends and then makes changes that give the evidence that his repentance was quite genuine. We read–

He took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem; and he cast them out of the city. 16 He also repaired the altar of the Lord, sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.

True repentance always brings about change. It isn’t legalism. It just is. It is never our place to judge anyone’s salvation, but if someone claims Christ and then has gone back to their old, sinful life and stays there without a battle, without any efforts to extricate themselves, it is evidence that they may have just grabbed the convenient life rope thrown their way but weren’t serious in their repentance.

 

Many of the stories in the Old Testament are wild and beyond anything that is familiar to us. We can’t imagine sacrificing our children or worshiping formed idols. And yet, people are people, and within us is the same capability for horrible sin. Oh, we may not worship a golden calf, but if we aren’t worshiping the one, true God, we are worshiping something. But the good news is that, no matter where we find ourselves today, none of us is beyond God’s grace. And if we reach out and receive that grace with genuine repentance, then our lives will be transformed in a marvelous and unbelievable way. It is never too late to grab on to the rope of rescue!

 

A Deeper Appreciation for Grace

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As we left the sounds and smells of Port-Au-Prince, we drove off into a dusty, drab landscape. I think I saw less than five wildflowers on our trip to the compound — not five plants filled with flowers–but five actual flowers. I counted. There was some green brush and weeds covering some areas and a few low-growing trees but that was about it.

When we arrived at the compound, it was to find out that we had no hot water, no soft place to sit, and the water tasted…thick. It had this weird texture from the chemicals needed to sterilize it. Our meals consisted of cereal with warm powdered milk for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch.

Be sure you understand that I am not complaining. It was an extremely nice place to stay in this needy, third world country and we were very well taken care of. And I am also well aware that there are some areas in Haiti that are quite lovely.

But through that week, I realized just how much I love my hot showers, sitting on my comfortable sofa after a long day, and the wonderful abundance of options I have when choosing what I want to eat or drink. I realized the precious blessing of going to the sink and being able to turn on a tap for clean, drinkable cold water and {almost} instant hot water. Do you really realize how amazing this is?? So many do not have this luxury.

I also realized that week just how much my soul is fed by the colorful landscape of my home state. Trees of all shades of greens abound and flowers in every color of the rainbow can be spotted simply on a trip across town in the summer. A trip to my local grocery store, nursery, or florist makes flowers and plants available all year round. Within a few hours in any direction, we can go to various lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, and even the beach for a weekend away. In fact, we even have the money to afford an occasional weekend vacationing in one of these spots. How blessed can I be??

The funny thing is that I am not sure I truly understood how blessed I was until I left my personal comfort zone and thought outside of myself. While a trip to another culture can help you see this very clearly, you don’t necessarily have to leave the country to discover this — a trip to your nearest inner-city, a good missionary biography, or a conversation with an older person who went through the depression or the war can also help you understand just a bit.

But it’s really hard to fully appreciate our blessings until we realize what life looks like without those blessings.

My experience in Haiti seems akin to how reading the Old Testament works in our lives as a believer. I know many people are quite satisfied to just ignore the Old Testament. They are quite comfortable in the New Testament and believe that all they need to know for the Christian life is held there. And I can honestly admit that I used to be a bit like that myself. After all, the Old Testament is filled with so much we don’t really understand and what we learn about God in those books can make us squirm. But as I was reading in Leviticus this past week, I realized that perhaps–

We can’t truly appreciate grace until we truly understand what life without grace looks like.

Of course, God has always provided a certain amount of grace to His people and provided a way to be reconciled to Him, but all of the sacrifices, and laws, and the specifics of the Tabernacle are so much to take in. This style of life is so foreign to us now. Interestingly enough, I recently watched a Frontline film (DVDs that show how the gospel is spreading in hard-to-reach places) that featured an animal sacrifice in Bangladesh. I found that especially interesting in light of what I have been reading. Some people are still sacrificing animals today to appease their god.

As I read all of the seemingly unimportant and very specific rules and laws, I ponder at their inclusion in scripture and yet God included them in His inspired, inerrant Word. There must be a reason. So what could that reason be?

I don’t presume to know God’s reasons, but what I do know is that the Old Testament is teaching me so much about God–who He is and what He’s like. I’m learning of His omnipotence, His love, His desire for my humility and obedience. I am learning the meanings of holiness and justice.

But, most of all, I’m learning what life looked like before Jesus died on the cross and provided a sacrifice for our sins.

As I read the Books of the law, *hymns like Amazing Grace, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, and Marvelous Grace take on a whole new meaning. I hope that, as you read through the Bible this year, you will notice that God doesn’t change, but through His incredible grace, He provided a way for us to be reconciled to Himself that doesn’t require animal sacrifices and obedience to detailed laws. This is amazing! This knowledge of life before Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection leads us to a deeper and fuller appreciation of grace.

So let’s keep reading through the hard passages. It will not be in vain.

 

*Hymns are a wonderful way to grow in our faith.  Much doctrine and depth of thought lies within their lyrics. I hope that you will consider listening to them sometimes with your children or grandchildren. While I love all kinds of music, it pains me to see beloved hymns being removed from churches. They are more than “old-fashioned” songs. They are wonderful songs of testimony and doctrine. Few worship songs (and I have nothing against worship songs) hold a candle to a hymn’s depth of lyrics. Try turning your Pandora station to hymns occasionally or read some hymn lyrics as an addition to your devotional time.

 

Grace and Introspection

Parting of the Red Sea

Sometimes we approach the stories we read in the Bible with a bit of arrogance, don’t we?

“Well, I would have never done that!”

or

“I can’t believe anyone could have acted {or reacted} like that!”

If you are reading along in the Bible Challenge, we have arrived in one of the most exciting books of the Bible–

Exodus.

In this book we witness God’s power through many different miracles, we see His care and protection for His people, and we read of God’s faithfulness and sinful man’s faithlessness.

It’s the faithless stories that drive me a little crazy. One of these is told in Exodus 14:10-12. Here’s what it says–

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”

My initial reaction when reading this was to condemn the Israelites harshly. For goodness’ sake, they had just lived through the ten plagues where they had witnessed miracle after miracle. They had seen the lives of their firstborn children and livestock spared, while the firstborn sons and livestock of the Egyptians were killed on one dark, dark night. There was only one explanation for how they could even be beside the Red Sea at that very moment and that explanation was God. God had worked miraculously to bring them to this point. They had seen it with their very own eyes!

And yet they doubted.

How could that be?

But then I remember times in my life when I do the same thing. Oh, it may not be in such dramatic fashion. I’ve never had the waters part for me or food fall down from heaven, but I’ve seen the hand of God work in mighty and wondrous ways– ways that defy circumstances and could never be called coincidental. And then, after all that, the impossible scenario comes along and I throw up my hands with questions and doubts, all the while wondering if God really does care for me.

One thing I have learned over the years is that when we are in our lowest, most hopeless place is when we see God work in the most incredible ways.

If we can do it ourselves and fix it ourselves and, through our own effort, solve our own problems then we have no need for God.

But when we reach that hopeless place–when we are smack dab against the Sea with nowhere to run and the enemy is headed towards us at breakneck speed-that’s when God shows His power!

Sure, we can criticize the Israelites’ reaction as they sat in that terribly hopeless place, but I am pretty sure we would have done the same thing. After all, we do do the same thing.

As we read through the Bible and even as we interact with other believers, let’s remember to do so with humility, love, and much grace. We don’t know how we would act in any circumstance, but one thing we can be sure of is that we are sinners, just like everyone else. And that fact alone should keep us humble and full of grace. And let’s keep our eyes open, because our God is still working in our most hopeless situations!

 

 

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