Extravagant Grace

After reading Barbara Duguid’s book, I found myself recommending it to everyone. I would use phrases like “paradigm shifting,” and “life changing” to communicate the importance of this read in my life.  

Before I read this book I thought I understood grace. However as I read page after page of this 228 page book,  I experienced Mrs. Duguid uncovering and kicking the legs out from under my non-stop tendency to try to please God and “win” His approval by means of my own goodness. In fact, she gets in the face of every Christian with statements like,

You will never be able to find steady joy in this life until you understand, submit to, and even embrace the fact that you are weak and sinful.

Let’s be honest: if the chief work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is to make Christians more sin-free, then he isn’t doing a very good job.

Having spent years soaking in the writings of John Newton, Barbara Duguid has written a tremendously helpful work that challenges us to believe that our God has sovereign purposes in allowing our sin and failures to remain. Beyond that, as Tullian Tchividjian says, “we need more and more books like this that remind us that the focus of the Christian faith is not the life of the Christian but Christ.” 

Time of Testing

“So, as the Holy Spirit says:
    ‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the desert,
    where your fathers tested and tried me
    and for forty years saw what I did.”

Hebrews 3:7-9 NIV

takingtest-JobTest I am constantly amazed at what God is willing to reveal about Himself and His ways. 

When I read these verses this morning I thought, “God is letting us know that He uses our resistance to turn the tables on us!”

When we feel so in control and get preoccupied with resisting, rebelling, testing and trying God’s patience—thinking that our wiggling and straining against Him will be allowed to succeed, He reveals that He is the One doing the testing!

Continue reading “Time of Testing”

Clinging Impact

22667275It has been great to study the Book of Acts this Fall. To focus on the the power of the Holy Spirit as He spread the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth has been thrilling.

As we draw upon this new power, in radical dependence on the Holy Spirit’s presence, what will it mean for us?
Among other things, it will enable us to reflect His Son to others and to advance His kingdom purposes in this world.

Jesus foretold what His disciples would become through the Holy Spirit’s power, ‘You shall be witnesses to Me…to the end of the earth.’

He calls His followers to make converts and to present these converts ‘complete in Christ.’

Christ is calling you and me and every believer to a life that furthers the gospel’s worldwide penetration as well as an in-depth cultivation of that gospel in those who respond.

Does that seem impossible? It should. Mark this: God will never call you to something you can do. Period. If you can do what God called you to without the new power God alone provides…then you missed what God has called you to. God calls us only to that which requires Him.

Reliance on Christ was the secret behind Paul’s impact on the world of his day; it’s also the secret behind our impact on the world of our day.” ((Dwight Edwards, Revolution Within, A Fresh Look at Supernatural Living, Waterbrook Press, 2001, p. 137-138))

“My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Psalm 63:8

Joy in being Exposed!

joy (Small) “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him whom we must give account.”  Hebrews 4:12-13

I am studying the Book of Acts with a group of women this Fall.  When I read this verse this morning I immediately thought of how I am getting to see it realized and lived out before my eyes in that group. I can sense it being realized in my own life but am doubly blessed as I witness this word being made flesh in the lives of others.

As we journey with Peter and Paul and learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts are being exposed!  Being exposed normally carries a major negative connotation — something to be avoided at all costs.  With this group of committed women we have grown in trust and feel safe enough to unmask ourselves– to unveil our thoughts and intentions in pursuit of seeing Christ more revealed!  That is the two-edged sword of the Word at work!  It is the Holy Spirit who is animating the written Word in our hearts.

The main character in Acts is the Holy Spirit–the third person of the Godhead.  We are becoming more familiar with how He works as an agent accomplishing God’s will on earth.  When I ran across this quote from A.W. Tozer this morning, I knew it was to help me marvel at His work in our lives.

An attribute to appreciate about the Holy Spirit is His penetrability.  He can penetrate hearts, minds–achieve complete penetration of and actual intermingling with the human spirit.  He invades the human heart and makes room for Himself without expelling anything essentially human.  The integrity of the human personality remains unimpaired–only moral evil is forced to withdraw when He penetrates.

New Kind of Co-Dependence

ac-emera "Imagine flying in an airplane, look out one side of the plane and see the left wing–it reads "dependence".  On the right side is the wing of "discipline."  We need both to "fly" in the Christian life.  Discipline refers to those activities designed to train a person in a particular skill.  Dependence refers to the trust we have in God to work through us.  We mistakenly assert that the believer’s job is to trust, while God does the work."

 "God’s work does not make our efforts unnecessary but rather makes them effective." 

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace.

While I agree with Jerry Bridge’s above conclusion, I wonder if he does not express more confidence in our "efforts" than we rightly deserve?  As I understand Scripture, both our "dependence" and our "discipline" are gifts from God ( Philippians 4:13. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)  I find believers need no more encouragement to strive or exert more effort.  In fact, we need all the help the Spirit is willing to give to trust in the God who boldly affirms, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." 

I am strengthened by the truth that I can worry less about "my part" in the mystery of union with Christ and rest more in His work accomplished and being accomplished in me! 

Bark on the Tree

 Q:  Many Christians look at the state of the church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

“What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naiive criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. bark (Small)

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation–what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bible–none. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?”  ((Eugene Peterson, “Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons” Christianity Today, March 2005))

Desires of the Heart

“Pop theologies baptize the longing of sinful hearts:health and wealth, significance and security, self-esteem, power to get what you want. But the heart Holy Spirit is in the business of changing what you want. Should you want what you ask for in the Lord’s Prayer? Yes and Amen!There are riches to be mined from the ground now trampled and mired by the modern jargon of “feelings.” Enter and dig! The Bible teaches that as you learn a simple and pure devotion to Christ, you will find your experience, emotions, beliefs and desires braided into a single unified strand. You will bear fruit in good works prepared beforehand by the One who is recreating you in his image.” ((David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes, P & R Publishing 2003, 219.))