“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) We have plans, but we never really know what any given day will hold. Yet, the day begins with this same declaration of praise. The Lord has given us this day, and it is filled with His grace. Things may run smoothly. That is His grace. Our way may prosper. That is His grace. Completely unexpected events many occur. His grace brought them. The day many hold difficulties, loss, or even tragic events. His grace is still there. You see, the Lord, who never leaves or forsakes us, is never taken by surprise, and is always working for us. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is hard to be a sinner! Now that is a strange remark for a preacher to make. Aren’t we supposed to talk about sin, and our need for the atoning sacrifice of Christ? Certainly, we are. It is a continuing message of sharing the depth of grace God has given us in our Saviour. But somehow the confession that “I’m a sinner” gets stuck in the throat. After all, I try to be a decent person. I help my neighbor. I go to church. I try not to harm anyone. I know I’m not perfect, but there are a lot worse than me. So, it is hard for many to think of themselves as ones totally separated from God, and dependent upon God reaching out to us in Jesus Christ. But that’s where we are, totally dependent upon God doing something for us that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. It is when we see ourselves as sinners saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that He becomes such a treasure. Because of the love we have been given, our desire is to worship and serve Him, to grow closer to Him, and to give others the love we have been given in Jesus.
It took some years after the beginning of the Church before people were called Christians. In the Book of Acts Christians were called the people of The Way. I’ve always liked that. I think it is an important designation we can take to heart. We are not just part of a religion, but we live by a certain way of life. That life is defined by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”(John 14:6) He followed that immediately by saying, “no man comes to the Father but by Me.” He is speaking of a singular path into the presence of God, not many paths, or all roads as some like to believe. The way that Jesus offers is good. It is not followed by a set of legal regulations, but by a relationship of grace that is offered to each person. The way we seek to walk is guided by the two great commandments, to love God above all else, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The way of Christ is seeking to walk in daily fellowship with One who loves us more than we know.
Paul began a number of his letters to the churches by writing, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. “What a marvelous salutation and blessing for his people. It is also what you should take seriously as God’s desire for you in this day. “Grace to you” is the hand of our Lord extended to take your hand in the desire to walk with you through all parts of this day. With His hand you have a sense of His guidance and direction for the tasks and decisions of today. With His hand you have the assurance of strength sufficient for today’s needs. With His hand you have the security that nothing can separate you from Him, and in that is a depth of peace that passes human understanding. Know today that because of the grace you have received in our Lord Jesus Christ you are held by the hand of our Father who loves you with an everlasting love, and will never let you go.
God used a variety of visual images through the prophets to show the people the nature of their life with Him. In Jeremiah 13 God uses an illustration of a garment that is bound around the waste like a belt. He is told to take a new garment and hide it among the rocks leaving it there for a long time. When he was told to go back and get it, it had rotted and was useless. Then God said, “I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor.”(vs.11) The problem was that the people refused to honor God and became like a rotted garment. The text says that the lives of God’s people are to bring Him honor and praise. God is not an egotist needing people to praise Him. He needs nothing from us. But by our lives bringing honor to Him we find our greatest joy, and we witness to others of the goodness of our gracious Lord. Long after the time of Jeremiah the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”(Colossians 3:17) This is not a life of law and fear of punishment if we offend God, but a life of thanksgiving in the joy of knowing our gracious God. Even in our failures we rejoice that our God does not abandon us. He is always there to forgive, cleanse, and give new life. Living in this grace we bring Him glory.
I made part of our living by running a woodworking shop for thirty years. I’ve made a lot of furniture, built in cabinets, and done refinishing and repair work. I did some good work, but the jobs that I remember most are the ones I messed up, the ones where I didn’t make the customer happy. Sins are like that. Things we’ve done in the past, we wish had never happened. But it is just here that the grace of our God is such a blessing. “When we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”(I John 1:9) We have the assurance that, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, God does not hold our sins against us. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”(Isaiah 43:25) Our memory is still there, but through the forgiving grace of God our guilt is removed. The power of Satan to use our past against us is broken. We may have to deal with the consequences of our past actions, just as I had to make the jobs done for customers right, but their power to bind us is gone. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”(Psalm 103:12) This is the freedom and true joy we have in our relationship with our Holy Lord.
Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s holiness? Holiness is absolute purity, perfection, the epitome of all that is good and right. Do we really understand the depth of our own sinful nature? Sin is our rebellion from God, our putting our desires, our will above that of our Creator. Do we really understand the fullness of God’s love? Love that is not a feeling, but a total willingness to give, even to self-sacrifice for the good of another. Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s grace? Grace is a free gift, something we receive which we do not deserve, did not earn, and have done absolutely nothing to merit. I’m not sure we really understand the depth of any of these. I know I don’t. We hear these words frequently in our churches – holiness, sin, love, grace. As we meditate on the meaning of each of these, and far more than I’ve expressed here, we begin to see something of who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We owe our life, now and eternally, to the One who has loved us so much that He freely gave the life of His only begotten Son to redeem us from sin and death, to bring us into His holiness. As we think about the magnitude of God’s act we come before Him in humble worship.
Yesterday morning my wife was out to breakfast with a friend. I was by myself. I fixed a bowl of cereal, sat at the dining room table, said my grace, and then looked at my bowl. The thought came to my mind, “how precious this is”. Strange thought over a simple bowl of cereal? Not really. I can’t take this simple breakfast meal fore granted as if it will always be there, or even worse that somehow this is my due. I am owed this food. All that I have is a gift of grace. Nothing really separates me from all of the emigrants who are wandering over Europe looking for a home, or those in war torn African countries loosing their lives. God doesn’t love me any more or them any less. Just why so many things are as they are is a mystery that will remain in God’s hands. Our sin has placed a great burden upon this planet that will only finally be made right when our Lord returns. Until then I will do what I can to relieve suffering, and never take my bowl of cereal fore granted.
I have written often that God is our creator, and has given us guidance for a way of life that is for our best good. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews said, “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”(11:6) That has become more of a problem in recent years. 22% of the American population now list themselves as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. Other countries are even higher. Many churches in European countries sit empty. People come only for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Otherwise, God is pretty irrelevant. The writer of Hebrews is correct. There is no reason to seek the Lord, or considering any of guidance for mankind unless we believe He exists. Yet, His evidence is all around us. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”(Romans 1:19-20) Even the 22% are surrounded by and benefit from the things God has made. Even further, God’s Spirit is still working to stir hearts and minds to consider Him. We pray that more hearts would be opened to receive the grace that is so freely given.
We are familiar with intercessory prayer. We have our daily prayer lists, praying for friend’s and relative’s needs. There is another aspect of prayer we need to make more intentional. It is called standing in the gap. There were a number of times God was angry with Israel on their journey out of Egypt. He was ready to destroy the nation until Moses pleaded with the Lord on their behalf, staying God’s hand of judgment. The Apostle Paul pleaded with God on behalf of his people, the Jewish nation. At a late time in Israel’s history God said to the Prophet Ezekiel, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”(22:31) We rightly pray for the needs of those we know, but we need to cry out more and more to our Lord for mercy on behalf of our nation and all of this broken world. Diplomats and legislators will not solve our problems. We need God’s presence, mercy, and grace. Stand in the gap for all of our people.