Friends, please read this letter from our friends at VCU/MCV Pediatric Emergency Room. I know you will be blessed by its joy, its thankfulness, and its love. We are so blessed to be in ministry together!
We recently turned to Titus, chapters 2 and 3 to help us recognize and rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We said there were three things the Holy Spirit does in a big way and three things that produces or makes possible for us.
1. The Holy Spirit helps us REMEMBER the WAY. The Apostle Paul doubles down and tells us the Holy Spirit calls us to a new life of righteousness and helps us to remember what that looks like. In particular Paul tells us to pay attention and follow those things that are unchanged from the beginning of time when he says “be subject to principalities and powers”. To “obey magistrates” is a similar command to follow those who follow the unchanging truths of creation. It is not some willy-nilly word to be subservient to government but a godly directive that the Spirit will help us establish our way based on the bedrock of God’s character and creation. Through this remembrance we will be able to show our appreciation for God’s mercy.
2. The Holy Spirit helps us be REGENERATED through WASHING, activating God’s Makeover of our lives. Literally, the Apostle Paul says the Spirit’s washing is a Genesis-Again act of God on our behalf. We are starting over as a new creation in Christ. The old is passed away and everything is being made new.
3. The Holy Spirit RENEWS the WORK of God in us “so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3: 8)This renewing work also includes helping us avoid being a moron, or play at life out of turn, or disqualify or condemn ourselves through any foolishness after which we might run.
To realize the full effect of Jesus’ passion on the cross into our lives, the Apostle Paul lays out a precise and complete process for us to follow in Ephesians, chapter 5. I want to summarize that path in three movements of grace.
The first movement is the move to become a full Partaker of God’s love. “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The second movement is faithfully Pruning those practices and pursuits that block the free and faithful flow of God’s passion displayed on the cross in us. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them.”
The third movement is then to be living Proof of what is acceptable to God. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).”
The Apostle goes on to say it is shameful even to mention little less practice the things ‘by grace through faith’ we have pruned or are pruning from our lives. But, above all I want to caution you about trying to work this process out backwards. What do I mean? Don’t start with trying to prove your way of living is right or how your style of life is already acceptable to God. The truth is not a single life is acceptable to God apart from the “offering and sacrifice” Jesus makes of himself on the cross. Do not persist in trying to minimize your own or another person’s need for mercy or repentance. The end result will be a minimizing of the effect God’s love can have on you and them.
Reverse this process and we will not prune out practices and persistent points of our personality that stand in conflict to the grace of God; we will instead seek to justify them. Reverse this process and we will end up seeking to make God an imitator of us instead of us imitating God, as dearly loved children are called to do.
This reversal already has a deep and wide following in our culture. How else could you take a day that is meant to honor a saint of the church and turn it into a day of liquor and license? How could we have come to the place where we suspend our support for an event because it doesn’t include enough immorality? How could we diminish the sufferings of Christ to say it need only apply to a few?
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Lent is a deep time of reflection and examination. For 40 days we hold up our faith to the intense light of the Son in the desert wilderness. Most of us begin this time with a shared worship experience on Ash Wednesday. We sing songs of faith. We pray and lift up our need for the outpouring of God’s presence into our lives. But, as we prepare for this Lenten season I hope you will be drawn to examine your life in light of the first expression of the pathway of grace we find in the life of the Church.
It is the day of Pentecost and just as Jesus was cast out into the desert by the Spirit, the outpouring of God’s promise upon the first disciples casts them out into the wild streets of Jerusalem. Peter stands up before the people of many nations and declares to them the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and the declaration that this same Jesus that was crucified is both Lord and Christ. The end of all things is at hand and God has moved in history and now seeks a dwelling place within our hearts. As many were moved and convicted by this apostolic message they asked a question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2: 37) and Peter responds and asks them to enter into a new way of life – a pathway of grace.
He tells them to:
1. Fully align yourself with Jesus Christ – Repent!
2. By faith, immerse yourself in this Way of life
3. Be forgiven of your sins
4. Be filled with the Spirit
5. Fiercely Follow the apostles’ instruction, and
6. Be a faithful participant in the fellowship of love and care
Now, review this list. Examine your own soul. Submit yourself to the wise council of others. How are you doing? How will following this path affect you over the next 40 days? How can you be more fully aligned with Jesus Christ? How can you whet and wet your faith? How can you douse your spirit, soul, and body with the washing and regenerating power of God’s word during this Lenten season? Are there sins you need to confess and for which you find forgiveness and old-habit-shattering cleansing? Are you filled with the Spirit? Do you contend for the faith (within and without) “that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people”. (Jude 1: 3) Are you daily demonstrating and giving the grace you received from the Lord? Do you stand in need of more grace?
Walk the pathway of grace. Do not let the days of Lent be wasted or passed over in your life. Let God bring about significant change and growth in you. I certainly want to rejoice with the angels over what God is doing in you!
If You Liked This Teaching…
And would like to have more help in walking the pathway of grace, I would recommend you do two things: pick up a copy of Moving at the Speed of Grace and be on the lookout for my new book, The Pathway of Grace: Learning to Walk with God.
Sometimes when I go onto http://www.mapquest.com I will reverse the directions of my trip to get a better sense of the route I am following. This is what we have done together as we looked at the qualities that allow us to match our steps with God. We have reverse engineered the way God works in our lives and I hope you have gained a better understanding of the goals for which we are reaching.
The Bible shows in Romans 8: 28 – 30 that the progression of God’s movement and grace, God’s way of working with us follows a predictable and constant path. It begins with God’s call to repentance as God calls us to align ourselves with him.
Then it moves to a place where God says, “I know how you need to be changed. I know where you are not well. I know where sin has affected you. I know where you have rooted yourself in sin and I am going to lay the axe to the root of the tree, the sword and axe of my word, and you are going to be made whole.”
On top of that, God gives us the Holy Spirit to walk with us and guide us step-by-step to a place where we are called again. We are called in a much more intimate fashion. We are called not only to be saved but to serve and to move forth as a witness and an ambassador of Jesus Christ.
When we do that we become very influential and useful in God’s hand. God says we are salt and light. We are justified and free to move and go as God leads us. There is no hindrance that cannot be overcome by the sufficiency of his grace. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (I Corinthians 10: 13) The weight of sin can be now set aside as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12: 1)
God says the end of his work is we are to be glorified. Our lives are to match up with his. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (I John 3: 2 – 3) We are to radiate the same life and grace, power and presence that the Lord does.
You see it in Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14: 12) Watch this glory shine in the acts or practices of the apostles. The authorities recognized it. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4: 13) The authorities were astonished in the apostles’ boldness and courage. They were astonished that they exercised the power to heal and proclaim the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The populace also noticed the glory of God that the believers in Jesus carried. “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5: 15 – 16)
The apostle Paul operates in this glory in Acts 17. The word goes forth in a mighty way to all of Asia through Paul’s teaching. His steps match the calling of God upon his life and Paul finds himself in the right place, in the right way, and in the right time. This match of obedience and opportunity allows the glory of God to reach those with a need without the apostle needing to be physically present. An anointed handkerchief becomes an effective proxy.
I have also witnessed this truth in the present day, in the healing ministry of Craig Marsh where the word of faith heals the sick and where an anointed or prayed-over handkerchief can be sent to someone and as they trust the Lord is present in that person (Paul or Craig) whom God has authorized to send the object, they are healed.
The truth is we are to be glorified. That is the end of all things and that is where we want to begin thinking about the question, “What does God intend for my life?”
First off, God wills for us to match our life with his. We are to glorify God and be glorified by God. We are to have unity. We are to have unity and peace between us and God. That is God’s goal: for us to match our steps with God, to walk in the way of peace. We are to walk in constant connectivity with God. We do not do anything except God is doing it.
This reveals our primary objective. We are to reflect in our actions the actions of God. We aim to be able to say with Jesus, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” Or as the Apostle Paul addresses the church in Corinth, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We still take responsibility for our shortcomings but we know every action is to point towards our unity with the Lord. This is why Jesus teaches us to be salt and light so that others may see our good works and glorify God on the day of his visitation. If you observe me you are meant to observe what God is doing in the earth.
That is our goal. To be glorified is to have unity between us and God.
It’s that time. It’s time to focus on the qualities that will bring us into conformity with Jesus. It’s time to see the next to last step of the six qualities of grace that allow us to match steps with the Lord. Here they are again: 1. Unity, 2. Liberty, 3. Authority, 4. Authenticity, 5. Fidelity, and 6. Integrity/Humility. I want to share these in reverse order from the chapter excerpt of my soon-to-be-released book, The Pathway of Grace: Learning to Walk with God. We’re counting down to #1 and today we focus on #2 Liberty. You read and I will look forward to your comments.
To be justified by God is to have liberty. We are living life led by the Spirit of God. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (II Corinthians 3: 17) There is liberty! We are not controlled by anyone else. We don’t have to be told what to do or be encouraged (or nagged) to ‘get with the program’. We are led by God. We are already co-initiating things with God. Husbands, we don’t need a ‘honey-do’ list because we have a ‘honey-I-love-you’ list already working in our minds.
We are already looking for ways we can bless, strengthen, encourage, and love our wives. We don’t have to be told we have to do it. We don’t have to be pushed into it. We have liberty. We have freedom to do it ourselves.
We are not hen pecked. We are not in bondage to the ‘boss’. We are the head so we move like we know what we are doing to love our wives. God wants unity. God wants peace between us and him. God wants liberty. God wants us to move in freedom: the freedom of his grace, the freedom of his love, the freedom of his power in the authority of Jesus. As we like to remind ourselves at home, “we don’t have to, we get to.”
Stay tuned for the final installment to Matching Steps coming up at the end of the week. Remember ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free’. Don’t let regret stake you to the past. Don’t let unbelief or proficiency in failure pile up to block your future. Let the love of God constrain you to move forward. The Apostle Paul lays out our choices about as starkly as they can be posed: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2: 7 – 8)
Go for it! Match your steps with God.