Don't Lose Your Appetite for Grace

When I find something new I like to eat, I eat it till I’m sick of it. Whether it is a new restaurant or a new snack I devour it till a lose my appetite for it. I experienced this recently with Chick-Fil-A. For a myriad of reasons I went to Chick-fil-a about five different times that week. Now I love Chick-fil-a, but by the end of that week the thought of waffle fries and chicken nuggets made me queasy. Why? Well our bodies are designed in such a way to encourage us to eat a variety of foods for our health, and a consistent diet of friend chick nuggets just doesn’t seem to be a healthy diet. We all need food to live, but there is something we need much more, the grace of God. We are dependent upon it not just the hour we first believed, but every moment sense. We are not only saved by God’s grace, we are sustained by it. Yet, I think there is a huge danger in our Christian life to begin to be so accustomed to consuming God’s grace that we lose our appetite for it. Each day we wake afresh in desperate need of God’s mercy, yet like so many other things, we begin to take for granted what we’ve been given. The beautiful truth of the Gospel can become to us something we take for granted or worse, something we feel entitled too. It is vital for us that each day as we live in God’s mercy that we beg for our souls to be awakened to the costly beauty of that mercy.

The grace we are given was incredibly costly. We are sinners, wretched and wicked, have been saved. We do not deserve mercy, grace, or forgiveness yet God has made a way and this through His son. Jesus entered into this world on a rescue mission to save sinners. He did this by going to the cross in our place, laying down his life as a sacrifice for our sins. At the cross Jesus absorbs our punishment and our condemnation and he justifies us before the Father. All of this is undeserved and all of this by grace. We who deserve death have been given life.

Christian, do not become so accustomed to the grace of God that you cease to be in awe of it. Do not let a day go pass where you sit in awe over these glorious truths and of God’s divine love for you. We daily consume his mercies each day as he sustains us in the faith, and as the decades pass may our awe of Him be ever-increasing. May our appetite for divine grace be ever-increasing and ever-growing, longing for more of Jesus. May those who have had their hunger satisfied by God always be hungering for more of God. In the words of Jesus “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”.

Grace for Your Failed New Years Resolutions

Chances are you probably made a New Years Resolution.  Many this time of year muster the will power to make the next year greater than the one before.  We set ambitious goals for ourselves and chances are many of us have probably already failed at them by now.  Maybe your resolution was to eat healthier but for lunch today you couldn’t help but go through the drive through at McDonalds.  Maybe it was to read Scripture every morning, but you found that this morning you hit the snooze button more times than you’d care to admit. Following through on resolutions can be difficult.  Creating new habits and adjusting our lifestyle can be a rocky road filled with failure. If your like me, you tend to beat yourself up over the failure.  You may berate yourself verbally or fill ridden with guilt.  Failure can often paralyze us and instantly take the wind from our sails.  Chances are if you have not failed yet, you probably will fail at your resolutions at some point.  The key to follow through is resiliency and being able to bounce back from our setbacks.  Here is where the wonderful and radical grace of God can help us in those times where we fail. Thank God our salvation is not died to our performance, even at New Years resolutions.  The grace of God empowers us to bounce back from our failures and shortcomings.

  • The Gospel reminds me that my acceptance before God is not dependent on my performance, but on Christ's. 
  • The Gospel reminds me that God’s love does not increase or decrease depending on completing my resolutions. 
  • The Gospel reminds me that though I may fail miserably, in Christ I’ve been given His great success. 
  • The Gospel reminds me that I’m free from guilt, because Jesus bore the punishment for my sins.

You see the amazing grace of God frees us from the oppressive burden of failure. In Christ we are free to fail and empowered to get back up and try again.  This truth is absolutely liberating. There is no need to sit and wallow in your failures, God’s grace compels you to get back up and try again.

You may have already failed miserably at your resolution.  You might have committed some grievous sin.  You may think of yourself as an incredible failure.  Yet, with God there is no cease to second chances. Remind yourself of the security, the comfort, and love you have in Jesus Christ, then get back up and try again.

Grace for Your New Years Resolutions

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New Year's Resolutions: You either love them or you hate them. If your like me, at this time of year you are filled with past reflection and future hope.

You are looking over the past year and examining your life. "How have I grown spiritually this year?" or "Am I more like Jesus than I was a year ago?". These are great questions to ask. We need to constantly be examine our lives and seeing where we can grow and mature.

You are looking towards the future year as well. "What will this next year bring?" or "What areas of my life need to be changed?" or "What ways will I grow and what ways do I need to repent of sin?". Again, these are all great questions to ask and the end of the year brings these questions to to forefront of our minds. We form our resolutions and our hopes based off of the answers to those questions.

Tomorrow is 2013. You will begin to put those resolutions into practice. Filled with hope and excitement, I'm sure you will start off strong. You will hit the gym every day this week. You will read that book every single day. You will have great success for the first couple weeks. As we all know, starting something new is easy, but finishing is very difficult. We are all great at starting new years resolutions, but we are terrible at finishing them. Let me give you an example.  We all know that the busiest time of year at the gym is in January. Why? Because everyone is starting their resolution, but by the end of the month those resolutions wain and those new people disappear. Each and everyone of us has experienced personal failure like this. Why do we have such a hard time with follow through? Why is change so difficult for us?

I want to provide you with some encouragement to help give wind to the wings of your resolution. It is a simple truth, but I think understanding this will greatly aid us as we make changes to our lives. The simple truth is this:

Whether you succeed or fail in your resolutions, God's love for you does not change.

You see, even though we have put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Even though we believe that we are justified by faith and not by works, we still believe that we have to earn God's favor. So often, our twisted motivation for our New Years resolution is some hopeless attempt to make God love us. We think, "If I read my Bible more, then God will really love me" or "If I can start being a more loving spouse, then God will really care about me". So often we are trying to earn God's factor through our actions and through our New Years resolutions.

Here is the good news, God's love for you will not change depending on your behavior. Your standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to keep New Years resolutions! Your worth, your righteousness, and your hope is intricately tied to your union with Christ! As the Scripture says, "Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). Even when we fail miserably, God's love for us doesn't change. God loved you at your worst. He loved you when you couldn't sink any lower, and his love towards you is just as extravagant whether you keep your New Years Resolution or not.

There is that dose of grace to help you in your New Years Resolution. Work hard and make sacrificial changes so that you can ben more like your Lord Jesus. Make those resolutions and do your best to keep them. However, even when we fail or fall short, God's grace enables us to get back up and try again. His merciful unconditional love for us empowers us for change.

What are your New Years resolutions? Have you had success in keeping them in the past? Why or why not? Share with us in the comments!

"I Deserve This" - The Poison of Entitlement

"I deserve this". Have you ever thought that before? The more I observe my thoughts and motives, the more I find myself thinking like this. I've had a long day at work and I drive by Starbucks and I think, "I deserve this", and I find myself stopping in for a hot drink.

You see, many people think just like me. Our sinful flesh tells us that we are entitled to good things. Entitlement is a lie that we deserve blessings and good gifts. When our thanks and enjoyment of what God gives us turns into harsh demands we go from humble gratitude to spoiled Brat.

We are just like spoiled Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate factory (the good one, not the weird Johnny Depp one). We stomp our feet, raise our voice and yell "I want the golden egg now!" We want the gift. We want the blessing, and if we don'g get it, we make everyone else's life miserable including our own.

Entitlement is the opposite of the Gospel, yet many of us treat our relationship with God just like this. We demand. We yell. We get angry, demanding that God give us ___       . If he doesn't give it to us, we throw a temper tantrum, just like a 3-year old. Although most of us don't still bang our hands on the ground kicking and screaming, we do the spiritual equivalent. How can you tell if you have a heart of entitlement? Two quick tests:

  1. Do you get angry when you don't get what you want? Do you scold God by saying, "I deserved that promotion!" or, "I don't deserve this health ailment!"
  2. Do you reward yourself or think God ought to reward you with presents when life gets difficult? Do you angrily pray, "God, I just went on that missions trip to Mexico, why haven't I found my husband yet?" or "I deserve that new HDTV, I've had a rough season at work!"

Whenever we think like this, we must remind ourselves of the Gospel. We must remind ourselves of what we actually deserve. I don't deserve that new car. I don't deserve that great new job. I deserve hell. I don't deserve material blessing. As a rebel sinner, I deserve condemnation. Then we must remind ourselves of what we've been given in Christ! In Jesus, I have everything I will ever need. I don't need to reward myself with food, Jesus is the reward! I don't need to find comfort in shopping, in Jesus I've found everlasting comfort.

The Gospel purges all self-sufficiency and all entitlement. The wonderful promise of the Gospel is that although I deserve death, I've been given life. Even though I deserve hell, God in Jesus has lavished me with every spiritual blessing! The truth of the Gospel runs in opposition to our sinful entitlement. We must put this sinful root to death in our lives with the life altering truth of the Gospel!

Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!