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Were It Not For Grace

By His grace, God saved me on this date in 2007.  How kind God has been to me during these last ten years (and before them!). I lived in darkness the first 36+ years of my life, and was truly unaware of it. When I did think deeply about God during those years, I sadly took the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18. I considered myself an essentially good person, and certainly not as bad as others. I figured that when I died and finally met God, the good side of my ledger would outweigh the bad. It was only when I really read through the Bible for the first time that I awoke to my real standing before God.

Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil.

Genesis 6:5 WEB

I remember being struck by this verse…does this include me? According to the Word of God, it certainly does. The ledger that I planned to present before God was useless. God showed me, by His Holy Spirit, that my only standing would be through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. I think of the patience of God, how long He watched me try to live on my own terms. How close did I come to spending eternity without Him!

That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’

John 3:6‭-‬7 WEB

I used to think those born again folks were strange! Jesus however makes it quite clear that unless you are in fact born again, you will face death twice…physically and then spiritually.

Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment,

Hebrews 9:27 WEB

I am thanking God for His grace today – “grace abounding to the chief of sinners”, as John Bunyan once said. Grace to me, a worm of a man, called by the King of Kings to live for Him and for His glory.

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Romans 7:24‭-‬25a WEB

A song I heard right after my conversion has become a favorite of mine, and outside of Scripture, gives probably the clearest summary of my own experience. I will reflect on these words today. Thank you Jesus!

Time measured out my days

Life carried me along

In my soul I yearned to follow God

But knew I’d never be so strong

I looked hard at this world

To learn how heaven could be gained

Just to end where I began

Where human effort is all in vain
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where I’d be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
So here is all my praise

Expressed with all my heart

Offered to the Friend who took my place

And ran a course I could not start

And when He saw in full

Just how much His would cost

He still went the final mile between me and heaven

So I would not be lost
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where Id be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace

John 17:17

bench-1868070_640“But permit me to ask you in love, if it is indeed the Word of God, why have you not paid that attention to it which it deserves? The same reasons which would deter you from willfully throwing it into the fire, should induce you to study it carefully, to make it the foundation of your hope, and the rule of your life; for, if it is indeed the Word of God, it is the rule by which your characters will be decided, and your everlasting state fixed, according to the tenor of the gospel, which proclaims salvation to all who have repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to those alone.”

-John Newton, March 30, 1800

To Those Who Reside As Aliens…

“What makes the children of God so strange?

The grace of God which calls them out of this wretched world. Every man who carries the grace of God in his bosom is necessarily, as regards the world, a stranger in heart, as well as in profession, and life.

As Abraham was a stranger in the land of Canaan;
as Joseph was a stranger in the palace of Pharaoh;
as Moses was a stranger in the land of Egypt;
as Daniel was a stranger in the court of Babylon;

so every child of God is separated by grace, to be a stranger in this ungodly world.

And if indeed we are to come out from it and to be separate, the world must be as much a strange place to us; for we are strangers to …

its views,
its thoughts,
its desires,
its prospects,
its anticipations,
in our daily walk,
in our speech,
in our mind,
in our spirit,
in our judgment,
in our affections.

We will be strangers from …
the world’s company,
the world’s maxims,
the world’s fashions,
the world’s spirit.

“They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” -Hebrews 11:13

“I am a stranger with you and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” -Psalm 39:12

“I am but a stranger here on earth.” -Psalm 119:19 

The main character of a child of God is that he is a stranger upon earth. One of the first effects of the grace of God upon our soul was to separate us from the world, and make us feel ourselves strangers in it.

The world was once our home—the active, busy center of all our thoughts, desires, and affections. But when grace planted imperishable principles of life in our bosom, it at once separated us from the world in heart and spirit,

if not in actual life and walk. We are strangers inwardly and experimentally, by the power of divine grace making this world a wilderness to us.”

-J.C. Philpot (1802-1869)

Book Review: “Do More Better”

41fXfohImwL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Would you like to be more productive? Most of us would answer yes to that question, even as the busyness of our lives sometimes wears on us. But have you thought about why you want to be more productive? Along with providing tools and tips to improve your productivity, Tim Challies’ Do More Better gives insight into why productivity  matters, why doing more good is the goal, and Who is the reason for it all.

Any new habit or plan will ultimately fail if there is no strong foundation to keep it going – to return to when days become mundane. Although we want to know the tools that will help us get from point A to point Z, Challies delays providing this right away. Instead he walks his readers through a “productivity catechism”, which ultimately leads to the mission statement, or foundation, of the book:

Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.

This charts the course of the book, and Challies returns to this statement again and again. He goes on to describe common obstacles (“productivity thieves”) that often get in our way, such as laziness and busyness. Challies then asks his readers to spend some time thinking about two major topics:

  • defining our major responsibilities
  • stating our mission

This is a two-pronged approach in that we define our major responsibilities (work, family, church, etc.) and then select a mission statement to guide each of these areas. These could take some time to reflect on and complete, but they must be done if we want to use the practical tools that he provides later on most effectively.

All of us have different ways that we organize and keep track of our day. Some are basic, some can be quite extensive. In the second half of the book, Challies recommends three online tools:

Challies is quick to note that we may find other tools (paper planners, alternative software) that are more suitable to our tasks. But his main point remains – we need a place to manage the tasks we’re responsible for; we need somewhere to track our meetings and appointments; and we need somewhere to “gather, store, and access (our) information, and do it in a logical hierarchical fashion.” (p. 68)

There are other neat features of Challies’ book, including “serve and surprise” along with an appendix describing “20 Tips to Increase Your Productivity”, but you’ll have to buy the book to see these in detail.

I found this book quite helpful for a number of reasons. First, we often start out with great energy on getting things done, but just as often don’t think of the why behind doing all of it. Challies’ productivity statement, mentioned above, provides a foundation for us. I’m going to print this out and place it in prominent places by my desk at home and work. Second, the benefits of the productivity tools are clearly outlined. I’ve used Todoist for a couple of weeks now and find it useful, and it nags me appropriately to do the things that I’m behind on. I’ve been using Google Calendar for years, so he didn’t have to sell me on that. I confess that I’m not quite sure about Evernote yet, and whether the time it will take to get everything in there will be worth it. But I’m definitely going to try it out.

Overall, I think Challies blends the why and the how extremely well in this book, as we look forward to a new year and the goal of being more productive in all we do. The time invested in reading this book will pay off, if you follow the steps as he has outlined them. I’d recommend Do More Better and would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book from Cruciform Press in exchange for an impartial review

 

 

Opening Our Eyes

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” – Psalm 119:18 (NASB)

I find that whenever my Bible reading goes into a rut that turning to Psalm 119 is a great tonic. Here we find 176 verses that meditate on the wonder of God’s Word. The psalmist asks God to open his eyes in the verse above, and I find this to be a great prayer as I open my Bible.

In the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples come to Bethsaida, where Jesus heals a blind man. After Jesus spits on his eyes and lays hands on him, the man sees partially and states in verse 24, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then Jesus lays His hands on him again, and the man’s sight is restored in full. I’ve often wondered why this healing takes place in two stages. But I can identify with the man after he is healed partially. There are so many things that I see and focus my time on that are of no lasting value, yet many of God’s truths seem cloudy. God’s truths seem like those hazy trees, and then it’s only after allowing God’s Word to penetrate through the mist that I can see again and remember His great promises. The longer I go without focusing on God’s Word intently – as the psalmist does so extensively in Psalm 119 – the hazier it is when I try to see. Verse 18 from this wonderful Psalm, and the account in Mark 8, reminds me of the importance of this.

Micah 6:8

SongsOfNativity“When we walk in sincerity, we will not mind if God chooses a humble role for us. Even if he were to raise us higher, we would still walk in his fear. Yet how much easier would it be to obey him if he were to deny us men’s esteem and praise! Conversely, if we were to go after things infinitely beyond us, it would be like pulling the clouds out of the sky and putting them under our feet, so as to lift ourselves up into the air! We should learn therefore to let God’s hand lead us, and to be content in whatever station he has placed us. Let us covet nothing to which he has not called us.”

-John Calvin, from Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1&2, pg. 45

A View of Grace

Mont_Blanc_oct_2004

“In the forest on the high banks of the river Aar, just outside the town, there is a bench where you can sit and enjoy an unusually good view of the Alps. But the clearing which makes this view possible is continually being overgrown and the trees have to be cut back every few years. In the same way, our view of grace is constantly being obscured by the cares of our time and the riches of the world, so that it is necessary to have our view of grace cleared not only every few years, but Sunday after Sunday, indeed even daily.”

-Walter Lüthi, from The Letter to the Romans, pg. xi