Sunday, January 17, 2010

What Are We Going to Do With Grace?

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about grace. The Bible has much to say about grace, and if you are like me, you have probably heard any number of sermons on this topic. I love every verse in the Bible about it, and many of the sermons I have heard has been powerful. However, in some ways I feel like it may be one of the least understood gifts from the Lord that we have. I don't claim to have the whole thing figured out, but I want to take a fresh look at a different aspect of the Lord's grace in this blog post.

As I mentioned, there are many references to grace throughout the Bible. We see in a few places that the Lord "gives His grace to the humble" (see Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6 and I Peter 5:5). The apostle Paul opened nearly all of his epistles, and closed some of them, by speaking grace over the readers. Romans 5:20 tells us that where sin abounds, grace does that much more abound. We know that God's grace is always sufficient for us, according to II Corinthians 12:9, and these are just a handful of the multitiude of scriptures that teach us about the Lord's wonderful gift of grace.

Probably the most common understanding of grace is that it is akin to mercy. It has been said that mercy is "when we get what we do not deserve, and we do not get what we do deserve." Most people would probably define grace the same way, and rightfully so. In this aspect of grace we can see the Lord's mercy revealed. We can see His gracious forgiveness and everlasting lovingkindness. At this level His grace covers our shortcomings. He accepts us in spite of our weaknesses, and He is patient with us as we begin to grow in the Spirit and make mistkes along the way. This is a very precious side of grace, but as awesome as this aspect is, it is really just the beginning.

There are whole different levels of grace that the Lord is inviting us to explore. As we have already experienced the Lord's saving power, His grace is now available to us to launch us further into depths that many never access. At this level, we not only experience the Lord's gracious understanding in the areas of our weaknesses, but we also begin to tap into His power to bring strength and victory in those areas. We begin to live our natural lives supernaturally. Previously we experienced the Lord's grace that made up for our natural limitations. Now we experience His grace that peels away the layers of our natural limitations.

Titus 2:11-12 tells us that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age." There are times when I would be happy to just make it through the present age, but the Lord's grace enables us to live at a level higher than the present age. So, what are we going to do with this grace? What do you need to overcome in this present age? There is grace for that. Is there anything we are struggling with that seems to keep us earthbound? There is grace for that. What's keeping us from being all that God has called us to be? There is grace for that. We have already experienced the Lord's saving grace. Now we are accessing his supernatural enablement that lifts us higher than our earthly limitations and propels us more and more into the nature and power of the Lord!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is 2010 Going to Get Better?

We are now a couple of weeks into this new year, and I have heard a handful of people rhetorically quip "I thought 2010 was supposed to get better." I have read a few different Facebook status updates that said the same thing. At first, I kind of laughed it off and appreciated everyone's humor. However, I began to take it seriously this morning when I found myself wondering: when is 2010 going to get better?

In the days leading up to the ball dropping, many people were celebrating the fact that 2009 was coming to an end and a new year was about to begin. 2009 had been a rough year and many people felt pressures they had hoped to never experience. Jobs were lost, health issues surfaced, relationships were strained and everyone was anxious to put a long, hard year behind them. 2010 would be a new year with new possibilities. It was a ray of hope on the horizon that would bring much needed change and things would get better. Well, the new year is now underway and many of us are asking when things will begin to turn around. Instead of getting noticeably better, some things seem to have gotten worse. When will it all get better?

Let me do my best to answer this question. First, in a general sense I believe things should always be getting better for the children of the Lord. The Bible tells us that we go from glory to glory and the Lord has great plans for us. I believe the Lord's plan is to always lead us from one place to a better place and He does not take us backward in our walk with Him. However, it is not always easy to see just what He is doing in our lives. Where we are now and where He is taking us are probably not side by side geographically - there is normally a little bit of a journey that we have to take to reach our destination.

Let us consider for a moment the journey the Israelites took leaving Egypt and heading to the Promised Land. In terms of the actual distance between Egypt and Canaan, it should have been about a two week hike. However, as we we all know, they wandered around for forty years! Where was this "Promised Land" the Lord had told them about? What's all this forty years business? Well, the Promised Land was within their reach just about the whole time. The Lord had designed their journey from Egypt to Canaan in a way that it would prepare them to inherit the Promised Land, but most of the people refused to respond appropriately to His dealings. This resulted in what could have been a two week journey becoming a walk through the wilderness that lasted four decades. Most of the original people died before ever seeing Canaan. How tragic! Just imagine how things could have been different had they used their wilderness journey to learn to trust the Lord. What if they had said "yes" to him rather than fight against His process. They became discourged and thought it might even be better to go back to Egypt, and many of them did. They did not go back physically, but they allowed the same bondage to grip their souls, only in a different form. They chose to trust what their natural eyes saw rather than what the Lord had promised. If they had chosen to trust Him, they could have seen the fulfillment of what they had been promised.

The same is true for us. We have the assurance from the Bible that the Lord is causing all things to work together for our good (see Romans 8:28). So, we know that it will all make sense in the end, but what about now? Many times we lose sight of the end result and begin to trust what our natural eyes tell us about our circumstances. The end result may seem to pale in comparison to the swirl that we feel growing around us. However, that end result is the Lord's primary aim. He wants to give us the Promised Land, and where we are right now is a place He has designed to prepare us for it! Let us guard against the desire to stay in the bondage of 2009 by allowing discouragement to grip our hearts about where we are now.

One of the anthem verses of the past several years for many believers has been Jeremiah 29:11, which says: "For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans to proser you, not to harm you; plans to give you a future and a hope." Can it be any more encouraging than that? Well, do you realize that the Lord spoke those words to His people in the context of telling them that they were going to have to spend 70 years in exile? He told them that they would be in Babylon, but after 70 years He would lead them out because He knew the plans that He had for them and He intended to make those plans a reality.

That is a great picture of the Lord's nature. He could have said "Listen, I don't want to talk about it now. You guys have 70 years in Babylon coming up. I'll see you on the other side." Instead, He said "You have every reason to be encouraged. You are about to experience 70 years of exile, but that's only going to be a temporary season. While you're in the midst of that time, remember that I have great plans for your future! I plan to prosper you and you have so much to look forward to!" If the people had identified themselves with their exile, they would have missed the Lord's great plans. We can do the same thing. It would be easy to lose sight of His plans by the thought of what seems to be immediately before us. But the Lord has given us a glimpse of what He has in store for us to give us the encouragement to press through and make the most the present season.

Think about what He has promised you. What has He shown you about your purpose and destiny? Which of His plans for your future has He revealed to you? Keep your eyes on these and allow this present season to prepare you to inherit them!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Secret to Submission

Today I was reading through some of the other blogs that I like to follow, and one of them inspired an idea for a post of my own. A friend of mine, Maribeth Jaklik (, has recently shared some reflections in a post called "One Thing." She was writing about the Lord, and she made the statement that "I bow to no one easily, but He levels me."
As I was reading that, I thought about a story from the life of Jesus. Mark chapter 5 tells about a time when Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who needed major help. This man was considered to be a dangerous lunatic. He lived in a graveyard, wounded himself with sharp stones and cried out like an animal day and night. If he were alive today, he would certainly be institutionalized. The people who lived around him had tried on several occasions to restrain him, but he would break the chains and shackles they put on him.
When this man charged toward Jesus, I imagine His disciples were more than just a little concerned. Here was this fierce man who could not be brought into submission, and he was running toward Jesus. They probably expected a violent encounter, but instead, he willingly knelt down before Jesus. He would not be contained by natural means, but there was something different about Jesus, and he voluntarily submitted himself to Him. What was the difference?
Obviously there is no way we can fully define Jesus in one blog post (or even a million), but there was a noticeable difference in how Jesus chose to deal with the man. The locals had tried their best, but their goal was not to help the man, but to contain him. When Jesus saw the man, He looked past his issues and saw the person beneath it all. He did not view the man as a problem, but as someone who needed His help. We do not know what had happened in this man's past that had led to these issues, but he probably had not always been that way. Maybe he had been abused or neglected as a baby. Maybe he had lost his family to an accident. Whatever had happened we do not know.
However, what we do know is that he needed help, and when he looked into the eyes of Jesus, he didn't see someone criticizing him and passing judgement - he saw Someone who loved him and who would help him. If I were in this story, I would probably be one of the people who had tried to chain up this "insane person." How many times do we try to contain someone through natural means for our own security? Have we used intimidation or guilt on someone we perceived as a threat to keep things under our control? Have we given someone the "silent treatment" if we did not get our way? Whatever the case, these natural "chains" don't really bring a true, lasting solution. How might things be different if we approached people and situations in an attitude of love and humility? Jesus was able to bring sincere deliverance to a man by loving him. Love never involves pressure. People do not respond well to pressure, but they do respond to love and humility. As we demonstrate the nature of Jesus, a world that refuses to submit will be leveled by His love that never fails.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Snow is Melting

Many of us have had the joy of snow recently. Here in North Wilkesboro, we had about 9 inches fall just before Christmas. We are now a few days into the New Year, and there is still snow on the ground out my window. (It's a good thing they have this global warming thing going on, huh? Just imagine how cold it would be otherwise :) ). Anyway, I was studying a passage from the Bible recently, and the Lord gave me a very timely analogy.
I Peter 1:4 says that the Lord has called us to a priceless inheritance that is kept for us in Heaven. It is pure and undefiled and safe from change and corruption. How awesome is that? I wonder how many of us really appreciate this inheritance and live our lives with it in view? Picture this with me, if you will: imagine that we are all waiting to be taken on a Caribbean vacation. We are gathered in a field wearing our bathing suits, snorkels and flip flops. We are carrying our sunscreen, beach towels and water toys, and we are waiting for our ride. We are excited about our vacation, but there is one small problem: the field we are in is covered in snow.
Here we are all dressed and ready for a vacation in the Bahamas, but we are standing knee deep in freezing snow! Now imagine that the Lord shows up in a nice jet to fly us to our Caribbean destination. However, instead of boarding the jet, we begin making snowmen and doing our best to keep the snow from melting.
As I pictured this in my mind, I began to realize the absurdity of such a thing. Why would anyone who had been prepared for a Caribbean vacation waste their time trying to keep the snow from melting in the field where they are waiting. Why would people wearing bathing suits be content to play in the snow when they could have their toes in warm, blue water? However, I have been just this absurd. In the natural, I enjoy the snow and I have plans to make many snowmen with my kids, but let's look at this analogy from an eternal perspective. Everytime we sacrifice our eternal, priceless inheritance to keep a little bit of what is temporary, we are trying to keep the snow from melting. In this life, we can build for ourselves the nicest snowman, but it will melt. We can build the best reputation for ourselves, and secure for ourselves the best title and position, but in the end, these will be just a black top hat, a red scarf, a few lumps of coal and a carrot laying in a puddle of water. However, whatever we build for the Lord will last forever. If we make His Kingdom our pursuit, and seek to make His name famous, we will begin to enter in to our eternal, priceless inheritance. Isn't that what we all want? Let's let the snow melt!

I have a name

Well, last night Nicole and I were discussing some name ideas for this blog, and I think we have one picked out. I closed my first entry with "further up and further in." If you have ever read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you may remember that phrase from The Last Battle. As the kids were pressing in to Aslan's new world, they kept saying "further up and further in." I figure that pressing further in is what we are all trying to do, so that'll be the blog name: "Further In." It definitely isn't as original as "Mike's Blog," but hopefully this will bring it a little more identity. I'll be working on some new entrys this week, so stay tuned.

Happy New Year!!

Mike R.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome to Mike's Blog

Hey, everybody,

After some encouragement from a few friends and a little bit of interest, I have decided to start a blog. I had a difficult time thinking of a name, so I have decided to call it "Mike's Blog," at least for now. Yeah, the title could win an award for originality, so I'll probably change it later. If any of you have any ideas, I'm open to suggestions.
Anyway, what I would like to do with this is share what's on my mind concerning our walks with the Lord, current events, etc. I may even recommend a book or share war stories about changing diapers. How ever this takes shape, I hope you enjoy it and I appreciate you all following along.

Further up and further in,

Mike R.