Category Archives: Grace

Why Do We Hide From God?

This is the second article that my grandson, Matt Northway sent to me on Easter Sunday. The first is posted below this one. I have to admit that it warms the cockles of my heart to read what God is stirring in the hearts of my grandchildren. It is called a blessing! I won’t repeat the intro that I wrote on Matt here, so without further ado, Matt poses the question, why do we hide from God?

And why do we hide from God? We act like He doesn’t know everything. He has seen you at your worst and He has seen you at your best. He has seen your shame and He has seen you sin. But even then, He sent His son to die for you and forgave you. All through your troubles, He was painting a picture and He still is. He knew you before you had a heart beat. He knows what you have done in the past and He knows what you will do in the future. He’s painting a picture for you. He is the brush and we are the canvas. The paint is His plan for us and His promises to us that shapes each and every one of us to give us hope for the future of what is yet to come. “For I know the plans I have you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Growing in Grace

I was reading Psalms 118 this morning and was touched by verse 14 which says, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It struck me that our faith walk is a journey. Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. The people of Israel journeyed from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham. The Apostle Paul counsels us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) In the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul prayed for the people to increase in the knowledge of God. The prophet Jeremiah shares a word from God that says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches; but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.”

As I reflect on this concept of spiritual growth, I am drawn into Psalms 119 where nearly every one of the 175 verses of that psalm refers to your precepts, your law, your rules, your statutes, your word, your testimonies, your promise and other descriptors of God’s word. Verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s word brings us light to find our way in an otherwise dark world. God’s word helps us discern our relationship with our government. This is particularly helpful in the times in which we live. God’s word helps us find our way with our families, our employers, our churches and a myriad of other relationships.

God’s word gives us hope for the future. Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth and it stands fast.” This is a great hope that we all can have. God’s faithfulness to his word and to who he is will endure to all generations! That means that until this world passes away, (Lk 21:33) God’s faithfulness will always be with us. And once that happens, God will provide a new heaven and a new earth that will be the dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 tells us, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Now if that doesn’t give us hope for our future, nothing will!

Spiritual growth helps us in our personal growth as well. In Peter’s second letter to the churches (3:18) he calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing in grace is something that we could all use. In the Lord’s Prayer cited in Matthew 6, he teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors …” Forgiveness is one way of extending grace. Christ goes on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So extending the grace we have received to others allows the grace we receive to grow even more. The harsh words and rhetoric of our political campaigns are divisive and cause sharp lines to be drawn between people rather than drawing people to unity. In America, we are divided as never before. I constantly have to ask myself what part I am playing in extending grace and creating unity.

Ephesians chapter 4 is a powerful passage that calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This bearing with one another in love is called grace. While we were still sinners, God chose to forgive us of our sins because of the blood of Christ. That is grace.

For us it appears in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As I read these words from Galatians 5, peace fills my heart. They feel like gracious living. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is given us by Christ at moment we stake our faith in him. What are we doing to grow in gracious living? We are all on a journey and God, who gave us the Spirit and began this work in us will continue working with us to bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He knows us and is patient with us, continuing to encourage us on our journey until the last day. He can calm the storms of the sea, he can also help us grow in grace.

Grace and Peace!

Who is Going to Heaven?

In these days of PC (politically correct) talk and the incorrectness of offending another person, it has become increasingly difficult to speak the truth. In my previous post the topic was about finding our way back to God. But what does that mean? While we’re finding our way back to God at what point along that journey do we find we can say that we’re definitely going to heaven? As usual, the Bible is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Ps 119:105). God doesn’t want to leave us in the dark on this critical question.

So why are we confused on the matter? I believe our confusion results from (a) a desire to sort out this key question in the affirmative regarding our family members and friends, (b) the scriptures are quite clear on the matter, and (c) God has told us that we look at outward appearances but that God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Who can know the heart of a man? Only God. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 7, Christ tells us what is going to happen when some of us face the final judgment. In Matt 7:21-23 He tells us that some will say they did a lot of good things in God’s name and Christ will say to them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

Not only don’t we know who of our family and friends are going to be in heaven, many people think they’re going there, but don’t have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. What’s up with that? How much worse can it get? Let’s see if we can’t find some answers.

When Billy Graham would preach at his meetings in cities all over the world, he would repeatedly preface his words with, “The Bible says …” Likewise, I want to stay on target with what the Bible says, so will quote scripture. Many laugh at the man who wore a colored wig and showed up at various sporting events displaying a sign that simply said, “John 3:16.” The hoped for result was that many would go to their Bibles and read what John 3:16 has to say. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The story is told in Acts 16 of the Philippian jailer who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s reply was simple, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads as follows, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Here is the thing we must keep in mind in answering the question of who is going to heaven. Our job here on earth is to love our neighbor. God tells us not to judge others so that we won’t be judged. God alone can see a man’s heart. King David, who was far from perfect, was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22). As our faith in Christ is a personal one that plays itself out as we exercise our faith, we need to limit our speculation to ourselves. Acts 10:42 tells us that God has appointed Christ to judge the living and the dead.

Since God knows our hearts, He has reserved the ability to determine who goes into heaven and who does not. He has ruled out works as the key. The only key for entry to heaven is a heart level belief that Jesus is who He said He is. Set aside the judging of others; what of those who were confident that they would be welcomed at the final judgment?

We have tremendous capacity to fool ourselves. We deny the truth. One has only to look at how our society makes up its own version of convenient truth. If I sin, I do penance to compensate. If I do good things caring for the homeless and those in need, surely that counts for a few points with God! Or when I die, if my friends pray hard enough, they’ll get me in. The question asked most often is not whether God exists, but whether God is good. If God is good, by our standards, surely He gives credit for being a good friendly person who loves people. These are the people to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

My prayer and passion is that more will place their faith in Christ alone and His work to reconcile us with the Father. The simplicity is hard to accept and understand. But it is real. God has given us His word on how to find our way back to Him. That part is not a secret. The real question is what each of us does with the truth He has revealed for us.

I’m going to close this segment with another Billy Graham quote regarding who will attain eternal life in heaven. Billy is quoted as saying that we’re going to be surprised when we get there. We’ll be surprised as to who is there and who is not there. Who do you say that Jesus was? What will be your rationale for entry into the kingdom of heaven?

While not comprehensive, hopefully this adds a little light.

Growing and Getting the Idea

In the previous post, I shared about my beginnings on the journey of faith. Based on my understanding of scripture, there is no doubt that in spite of my herky-jerky beginnings (think albatross, think gooney bird) that I was, in fact, completely and totally covered by the blood of Christ and my sins, past and future, were washed away. I had the behavior patterns of a young boy growing into his teen years with all that entails. But as I grew older, I was also growing in the knowledge of God. When I was 16, I attended a series of meetings (known in those days as Deeper Life evangelistic meetings) in Meade, Kansas. It was during those meetings that I was gripped with the need to make my faith my own. To own my faith meant to me that I needed to rely less on what my parents thought and more on what God would teach me through His word, the Bible.

A few years later, I would undergo a significant test. Part of being Mennonite, also meant that I was taught that war and the killing that was part of war was not for Christians. There came the time after registering with the Selective Service System (SSS) as a conscientious objector (one who was willing to serve, but in non-military capacities) that I felt I needed to come to my own conclusions in this matter. I studied and prayed and studied some more and prayed some more. After searching the scriptures that were held by the church to lead one to the conscientious objector conclusion, and various other passages that also provided insight and instruction in my search, I came to a conclusion that was different from the view held by my church and my parents and would have to be communicated to my father. While it was a dramatic setting that I’ll share more about later, I was proud of my father as he listened to my heartfelt confession of the soul. He knew that I had been searching the scriptures out for quite some time and that this was not from a rebellious heart, nor was it an arbitrary decision. Effectively, the result of my decision would cause me to be drafted (twice) for the Vietnam war so this was not a decision without consequence.

From my childhood days I had heard the stories of Solomon and how he gained his wisdom. What grabbed my heart was that God was pleased with this request. So, I too, because this pleased God, began praying for wisdom. At the same time, my mother had been praying Colossians 1:9-12 over me nearly every day. Among the many aspects of that prayer, a couple of parts were that I would grow in the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and knowledge and that I would grow in the knowledge of God. Without being prideful, I believe that God has honored those prayers. He has put me into situations for leading churches in seasons when He knew I needed a growth spurt, when I needed to learn what it was like to depend on Him. At times my learning was by observing how men of God walked by faith and at other times, I was in situations where I literally made sure the passenger seat in the car was empty so that He could be there with me and we would talk about things that were heavy on my heart.

I’ve found it interesting how He has insisted on using this ragamuffin guy with all his imperfections (just ask my wife) to carry the good news and to be a voice both inside the church and outside. I’m reminded of Samson and Peter as I think about my journey. I also think of David too. Now that I’m approaching my 69th birthday (in two weeks) I wish I could say that I’d figured out the air pockets and downdrafts in this walk of faith. But God is my source and my strength. He gives me a word for this person and that person who know me and my imperfections. Yet His word is true and when He gives us a word, it will strike the chord that God wants to be struck in another person’s heart and mind. Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 4 comes to mind where he says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Paul goes on from there to tell how men will turn aside to myths and false teachings.

Our task is to be like the Bereans (Acts 10) who tested everything they heard against the scriptures. Even the things that Paul taught them were tested. They made their faith their own and they learned to grow in the knowledge of God as a result.

God grant us steadfast hearts that pine for You and You alone!

Standing Amazed

The old hymn says, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene…” That pretty much describes me right now. I am standing amazed at how God is working in the lives of many of my friends. While I’ve operated from an understanding that no one comes to the Father except that the Father draws them, I’ve been amazed to see that drawing at work. I’ve been praying for some of the people in my life and hoping I stay out of God’s way so that He can do His work of drawing. Guess what? He’s doing it!

Why are we amazed when God does what He says He will do? I was reading again this morning in John 6:44 and went from there to Ephesians, 1st and 2nd chapters and then to Romans chapter 8 where Paul talks about how God foreknew those who would believe in Him. We all have different journeys to arrive in the place of faith. I shared a post from Billy Graham a few days ago about faith being the thing that pleases God the most. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Follow Hebrews chapter 11, often referred to as the faith’s hall of fame.

Faith is something that we all need to wrestle with. Do we believe God? Do we believe that God will keep His word and carry out His promises? One man’s journey begins in a Christian home and his transition to faith is barely discernible. Another grows up in a world of abuse and anger, yet, when the God of eternity touches him and draws him to faith, his life is dramatically changed. But what is that journey? I want to pursue that topic in the next few blogs.

Christ died for the sins of the whole world so that whoever believes in Him will not perish (in hell) but have eternal life. It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and that faith not attained under our own strength, it is a gift from God Himself. Not accomplished by works so that none of us can boast in how we found our way to faith in Christ.

Until next time, try standing amazed at how He is working in this world in the lives of men!