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Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

Turning_Water_Into_Wine_by_phantasiegestoert

Trouble was brewing at the wedding. A very embarrassing and humiliating situation was about to shatter the joyful celebration of the bride and groom and their families. And since the wedding arrangements were the responsibility of the groom’s family, it could result in the bride’s family suing the groom and his family.

The cause? A sacred hospitality duty was about to be broken by the groom’s family—they had just run out of a crucial item in the nuptial celebration—wine! (John 2:1-12)

Before the wedding guests could become aware of the wine shortage, Jesus’ mother, Mary, told him about the problem. The Gospel of John tells us that she, Jesus, and five of his disciples were guests at the wedding—which raises the question as to how or why she knew about the problem.

New Testament commentator William Barclay points out that one of the Coptic gospels from Egypt states that Mary was a sister of the groom’s mother, and that other early sources identify the groom as the disciple John, whose mother was Salome, the sister of Mary. Such family ties and threat to the family’s reputation would undoubtedly give Mary reason to seek the help of Jesus in solving the problem.

Jesus’ response to his mother, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come,” though seemingly rude to our modern ear, is not necessarily so. It was more a way of distancing himself from Mary as her son (Mt. 12:48; Mark 3:33), for he was about to embark on his journey towards the “hour” of his death, resurrection, and ascension as the Messiah.

Not put off by his reply, Mary told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” She most likely did not have any idea what he would do or how he would solve the problem, but she was confident that he would.

And so he did—quietly and miraculously, turning nearly 180 gallons of water into such exquisite tasting wine that the master of ceremony, not knowing where it had come from, gushed to the bridegroom, “You have kept the best wine until now!”

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This miracle at the wedding in Cana speaks to us in several ways:

  • Jesus’ presence in the midst of the wedding festivity reminds us that he wants to share in our happy occasions; he was not a killjoy or sourpuss, and neither should we be. We should always celebrate life in a way that reflects his joyful presence.
  • Mary’s willingness to bring her problem to Jesus without knowing how he would solve it reminds us that we, too, should come boldly and confidently to him in prayer, yet without any preconceived notion as to how he will answer our prayers.
  • The enormous amount of wine is more than could be drunk at a wedding, and must be seen, not simply as a miracle of water being turned to wine, but as Jesus’ superabundant, extravagant, inexhaustible grace that meets our deepest needs and transforms our lives—“for from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John. 1:16, ESV).
  • This grace must also be seen in the context of verse 11 that tells us that this miracle was the first sign of his coming glory, a term that John uses in reference to the life and ministry of Jesus (John. 1:14; 11:4; 17:22, 24), and to his death, resurrection, and ascension (John. 13:31, 32; 17:5) in order that he might save all who believe in him.

As with his transformation of water into wine, so can his superabundant, extravagant, inexhaustible grace transform each of us from perishing to saved, from sinner to saint, from ordinary to extraordinary, from pedestrian to remarkable, from uninspired to inspired and inspiring!

The question that we each must answer for ourselves, whether believer or unbeliever, is:

Will I allow Jesus to continue his transforming work of grace . . . in me?”

*****

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Waiting for the Verdict

Waiting for the Verdict

On my visit to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles a few months ago, I was drawn to a pair of 1859 paintings by the British artist Abraham Solomon because of the biblical implications I saw in them.

The first painting, Waiting for the Verdict, depicts a family waiting outside a courtroom while their loved one is being tried inside for a serious charge. By the expressions and body posture of the family, the wait is long, tiring, and reflects the seriousness of the charge, suggesting that a guilty verdict could be devastating to the family.

The other painting, Not Guilty, shows the relief of the family as they are united with their loved one who has been found innocent of the charges against him.

As I gazed at the paintings, my thoughts went to another court—the divine court that will take place upon the return of Jesus who declared, “I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of my Father and with his angels and will judge all people according to their deeds.” (Matthew 16:27, NLT)

The Bible states that every person who has ever lived has sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:20), that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), that all our attempts at being good and righteous are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and that every person will be judged for their sin.

But the Bible also shows that many people, despite being guilty, will be pardoned and declared “Not Guilty,” and they will be blessed with eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way:

“For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.” (Romans 3:23-25a, NLT)

In today’s culture in which the word “awesome” is used so freely and flippantly for almost everything, the implication of this passage is that God is truly awesome and amazing in his love, mercy, and kindness toward us!

He is awesome in that while most other religions require their followers to earn their god’s favor and acceptability, it is only what God has done for us through Jesus Christ that matters.

He is awesome in that even though we are all guilty of our sins, he declares us “not guilty” because of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He is awesome in that although all our good deeds could never measure up to his holiness, yet he makes it possible for us to have a right relationship with him simply through our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:27-28).

The wonderful and powerful message of the Bible is that we no longer have to wait for the verdict on that great Judgment Day. God stands ready to pardon us now—if we are ready to trust Jesus to take away our sins and follow him as Lord.

So, dear reader, where are you today? Still waiting for the verdict? Or are you a “not guilty” believer who follows Jesus?

Not Guilty

Not Guilty

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The high price, of course, was the sacrificial death of Jesus who willingly gave his life to save us from sin’s destruction, and forgave our sins. (I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Eph. 1:7)

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—for it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7)

In light of such wonderful love, mercy, grace, and kindness, how should we then respond?

Gloria Gaither, one of the most prolific Christian composers today, answered that question when she wrote the inspiring lyrics in “I Then Shall Live,” and set it to the beautiful hymn tune, Finlandia.

Please listen and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you and bless you.

 

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A blogger, whose 16-year-old daughter recently lost a young friend to suicide, commented, “I asked God to help me understand why they [who take their lives] go to Hell. I am no one to question God, but I need an answer. I can’t find one—yet.”

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “suicide,” it provides four incidents of individuals taking their lives—I Sam. 31:4-5; II Sam. 17:23; I Kings 16:18; and Matt. 27:5.

However, the Bible does not address the eternal future of those who commit suicide, nor does it specifically prohibit or condemn the act.

What the Bible provides are inferences regarding the high value of the human life. These include Acts 16: 27-28 where Paul stops his prison guard from killing himself, and such verses as:

Do not murder.” –Exodus 20:13

For we are not our own master when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.” –Rom. 14:7-9

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” –I Cor. 6:19-20

No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.” –Eph. 5:30

Along with the grief and emotional devastation experienced by family and friends when their loved one commits suicide, there is usually a variety of difficult and troubling questions, including the one about hell.

As someone who lost a family member to suicide, and knows of two Christian leaders who ended their own lives, I have found hope and encouragement about their eternal future from Scripture, though I am careful to not apply this to all suicides.

First, these were suicides that occurred while these individuals were suffering from chronic and debilitating bouts of sadness, pain, and depression. The causes ranged from life-shattering events, medication problems, illnesses, diseases, and severe mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Such bouts sometimes lasted for years and were so severe that the individuals lost hope and finally gave up on life.

Second, I don’t believe that they were rational or in their right minds when they ended their lives. They were in mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown and bankruptcy—totally crushed in their inner beings—and in such a state, Jesus’ pronouncement of blessings can be applied to them when he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matt. 5:3-4 (New International Version, NIV)

Based on these verses, I believe that the kingdom of God is a gift of grace, mercy, hope, and comfort to those who are destitute in spirit and who mourn from within the depths of their despair—even to those of his children who commit suicide.

Third, Scripture assures us that our salvation in Jesus Christ can never be broken or taken away from us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high in the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Rom. 8: 35, 37-39

And what of those who never acknowledged or accepted God or Jesus Christ into their lives before their suicides? There is no such assurance of their place in his heavenly kingdom or that they will be comforted.

Still, there is the possibility that some of them might have cried out to God from within their death throes. Might God, in his compassion, grace, love, and mercy have forgiven them?

I believe he might have, for just as he expressed through Jesus his compassion, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the crippled in body and mind, the tormented, and sinners—even the dying thief on the cross—so he might have had compassion and forgiveness for such ones who realized their need for him at the last moment.

And I believe that we might be surprised to see who will be—and who won’t be—in his kingdom on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31-46).

*****

All Bible references are from the New Living Translation (NLT), except the noted NIV reference.

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As we prepare for our Thanksgiving meals, here are some prayers for giving thanks to our good and faithful God, compiled by my friends Rev. Care Crawford and Laura De Assis, both of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California.

O God, when we have food,
help us to remember the hungry;

When we have work,
help us to remember the jobless;

When we have a home,
help us to remember those
who have no home at all;

When we are without pain,
help us to remember those who suffer;
and remembering,
help us to destroy our complacency.

Bestir our compassion,
and give us concern enough to help,
by word and deed, those who cry out
for what we take for granted.
Amen.
-Adapted, Samuel F. Pugh

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“Father, we thank Thee for this food,
for health and strength and all things good.
May others all these blessings share,
and hearts be grateful everywhere.”
-Traditional American Blessing (circa 1800s)

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“For peaceful homes, and healthful days,
for all the blessings Earth displays,
we owe Thee thankfulness and praise,
Giver of all!”
-Christopher Wadsworth (19th century)

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“Be present at our table, Lord;
be here, and everywhere adored;
thy mercies bless and grant that we
may feast in fellowship with Thee.
Amen.”
-Anonymous

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“Thank you for the world so sweet,
thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
thank you God for everything.”
-Child’s Blessing

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“O Lord, we thank Thee for this food,
for every blessing, every good.
For earthly sustenance and love
bestowed on us from heaven above.
Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy children bless and grant that we
may feast in paradise with Thee.”
-Garrison Keilor

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“Lord Jesus, be our guest;
our morning joy, our evening rest.
And with our daily bread and part,
bring peace and joy to every heart.
Amen.”
-Traditional American Grace

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“Bless this food we are about to receive.
Give bread to those who hunger,
and hunger for justice to us who have bread.
Amen.”
-Traditional American Grace

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