UNTIMELY BIRTH

1 Cor.15:8-10 – Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul’s life is a contrast of a human controlled by his natural passions and the mess that leads to, and then someone filled and consumed by the Spirit. This supernatural transformation is the definition of God’s grace. Paul’s out of control life was not one controlled by immorality or drunkenness, but it was another version of depravity. We may tend to think someone addicted to opioids or alcohol is a great candidate for God’s grace (and they are) but there are other versions of sinful behavior that need God’s intervention.

Paul was an extremely ambitious man before his conversion. You know the drill, anything goes to get to the top, and get to the top he did. He had risen to the ranks of power in Israel calling himself, “a Pharisee of Pharisees”. His allegiance to his view of Judaism and his lust for power blinded his eyes resulting in someone literally “breathing out” profanity against the followers of Christ. He lived in an atmosphere of hate leading the persecution against the Christians. Paul had become a great candidate for the display of God’s grace. Here is what the early Lutheran theologian, Hesshus, said about Paul and the phrase “untimely birth” in today’s passage.

“Untimely born – ektroma – miscarriage or abortion

I was like an untimely birth – a disgusting mass of flesh, without life and without light. I was not reborn by the Spirit, I was not made new in Christ; I was destitute of all life and righteousness; I was a most disgusting mass of flesh in the sight of God- in fact, I was persecuting the church of God.”

That is a great description of fallen man. Paul called himself an abortion or a miscarriage, a disgusting mass of flesh. Without Christ that’s what we are, absolutely disgusting. That’s why the contrast is so amazing. The grace of God is a work of metamorphosis, making us into something beautiful. One moment Paul was a disgusting mass of flesh, the next moment he was changed into a powerful man of God. No wonder grace is called amazing.

CAPTURED BY GRACE

Gal.1:15 – But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,

Paul seemed to be fixated all his life on that moment in time on the Damascus Road that changed his life forever. Everything changed that day. What caused the change? The obvious is what he saw on his way to Damascus, he said Jesus came to him with a light shining out from Him brighter than the sun at noon day. That is quite impressive but just seeing something like that, no matter how magnificent, can’t change everything. Just seeing something outwardly, no matter how incredible, doesn’t have the ability to change us. The answer to what changed Paul that day can be seen in this little phrase at the beginning of this devotion. Paul said that God was pleased to separate him from before the time he was born by God’s grace. What is grace? Many think it is the overlooking of our sinful lives by God. That definition doesn’t even come close. Grace is the influence of God on our hearts that actually changes the things we love. We used to love sin and now we find Jesus as incredibly attractive. That love and attraction to the Lord is what separated Paul and called him into his new life. He was called to follow Jesus through the influence of grace. Here is how Augustine described grace; this is one of my all time favorite quotes.

“During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? . . . How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! . . . You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure , though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . .O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

So what is it that keeps you from really selling out to the Lord? That is the thing that will no longer have its attraction to you and hold on you once you drink deeply from this cup of grace. Once you were a slave to the pleasure of that particular sin, that is until grace came. The pleasure found in the knowledge of the Lord replaces the foolish pleasures of sin.

I AM WHAT I AM

1 Cor. 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul was the prototype in the New Testament of a person effected by the grace of God. To understand Paul you have to have an understanding of grace. What is grace? The most common answer you will get when you pose that question is this, “unmerited favor”. That is not really an accurate answer. “Unmerited favor” seems to imply that grace is getting good things from the Lord that our behavior doesn’t warrant. That is not grace. Bible grace is so much more than that. Grace is the influence of God on our souls that makes spiritual things attractive to us. In other words, grace transcends the things and blessings of this world and brings us into a place where “only God” will do for us. We begin to follow the Lord with all of our might because we delight in Him and in doing His work. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this verse.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am – By the “favor” or mercy of God. What I have is to be traced to him, and not to any native tendency to goodness, or any native inclination to his service, or to any merit of my own. All my hopes of heaven; all my zeal; all my success; all my piety; all my apostolic endowments, are to be traced to him. Nothing is more common in the writings of Paul, than a disposition to trace all that he had to the mere mercy and grace of God. And nothing is a more certain indication of true piety than such a disposition… He had been enabled by the grace of God, to labor more than all the rest, and he had thus shown that he had not been insensible of his obligations.”

So not only does grace cleanse me of my sin, it also frees me from the power of sin. It works in the most unexpected way, it works through our enjoyment or pleasures. We used to love sin and now we love Him and His kingdom. That’s what happened to Paul at his conversion. Grace arrested him, grace forgave him, and grace consumed him with a new passion. From the day of his conversion onward, Paul was consumed and transformed by grace. That’s why he said, “by the grace of God I am what I am”.

“Infusing Grace”

by Parris Bailey

MERRY WEDNESDAY!

I believe we will spend the rest of our lives and the angels too, contemplating the wonders of salvation. How a person could be going one way and then change into another man by Christ’s efficacious grace is just supernatural. When we read the conversion of Paul on the Damascus Road we realize just how suddenly salvation can come. His conversion wasn’t gradual but immediate. One can say repentance is a sovereign gift of God in ones life. Jonathan Edwards quotes; “They are in themselves filthy, vile creatures and see themselves to be so. They have an excellence and a glory in them because they have Christ dwelling in them…. Tis some thing of God. This holy heavenly spark is put into the soul in conversion, and God maintains it there. All the power of hell cannot put it out…. Though it be small … ’tis a powerful thing. It has influence on the heart to govern that, and brings forth holy fruits in the life, and won’t cease to prevail ’til it has consumed all the corruption that is left in the heart and ’til it has turned the whole soul, as it were, into a pure, holy and heavenly flame. The principle, once born, grows: In conversion this spiritual principle begins again to be restored, though it be but in an imperfect degree . . . gets more and more powerful”.

When infused grace comes into our lives everything changes. Our understanding becomes enlightened whereas before we walked in darkness having no conviction or understanding of the reality of spiritual things. There was no ability to be free from the bondage of sin or have freedom from guilt. Jonathan Edwards when writing on grace said, ‘In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God does all and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. For that is what he produces: our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are, in this respect, wholly passive and wholly active.’ Edward believed that Nature cannot change nature; only super-nature can.

Piper when talking about grace he uses the term irresistible grace in which he defines ‘More specifically irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved.’ It does one well to remember just how rebellious we were and hellbent on sin. Piper is not saying that God forces us to believe against our will, but we have a way of being persuaded. This is the beautiful work of redemption upon a fallen man of which the world wonders. Once we were blinded but now we see. Grace becomes infused within our hearts and regeneration occurs.

“Life is in the quickening Spirit.” WA Criswell RC Sproul says, “To be “born again” is to experience a second genesis. It is a new beginning, a fresh start in life. When something is started, we say that it is generated. If it is started again, it is regenerated. The Greek verb geniauo that is translated as “generate” means “to be,” “to become,” or “to happen.” Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is a change. It is a radical change into a new kind of being.

ZECHARIAH’S TEMPLE – OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

Zech.4:7 – “Who are you, O great mountain?

Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!

And he shall bring forth the capstone

With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”

Adversity is part of life, all of us have our portion. The important thing is, how do you deal with adversity? Today’s verse has been a great encouragement to me in adversity throughout my life. In it I have found two powerful truths that have strengthened me time and time again. The first is in the last part of the verse, His enabling grace is more than sufficient in all that I face. Grace was the word the Lord gave to Paul when he seemed to have had enough of the barrage that keep coming against him. “My grace is sufficient”, the Lord said. The grace of God satisfies us, sustains us, and in this grace we find favor that is bigger than anything that comes against us. Here is how Dick Mills describes this grace found in today’s word.

“Grace – Favor, grace, graciousness, kindness, beauty, pleasantness, charm, attractiveness, loveliness, affectionate regard. The root chanan means “to act graciously or mercifully toward someone; to be compassionate, to be favorably inclined.” God’s grace poured out upon Jerusalem enables them to look longingly and beseechingly toward their pierced King. God’s grace will result in Israel’s seeing Jesus as someone of infinite beauty. His goodness enables them to repent. The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” in Heb. 10:29, a title no doubt inspired by this reference in Zech.”

His grace is sufficient for me. The second lesson I see in this verse is to always look to the Sovereignty of our Lord. He gives Zerubbabel a powerful promise here. He says He will bring forth the capstone, the finishing stone of the temple. The Lord is telling Zerubbabel that He will complete what He has started. Here is how Adam Clarke sees it.

“The hinderances which were thrown in the way; the regal prohibition to discontinue the building of the temple. The sovereign power of God shall remove them. March on, Zerubbabel; all shall be made plain and smooth before thee. I have given thee the work to do, and I will remove all hinderances out of thy way. He shall bring forth the headstone. As he has laid the foundation stone, so shall he put on the headstone: as he has begun the building, so shall he finish it! With shoutings The universal acclamation of the people. Grace, grace unto it. How beautiful is this structure! May the favor of God ever rest upon it, and be manifested in it!”

I love this, the Lord will finish the work. What He started in me is certain to come to a glorious conclusion.

WHO HAS BELIEVED?

Rom. 10:16,17, 20 – But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me. I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

Religion and faith can be a tricky business. The Jews had been the “chosen people” for so long in Paul’s day that they just took their spirituality for granted. Jesus had come on the scene and turned over the apple cart. All their pre-supposed rules and privileges suddenly meant nothing. Now, to make matters worse, the former Pharisee, the Apostle Paul, was converting thousands of gentiles to this Christian faith. This was absolutely unthinkable. Now Paul was going even a step further, it wasn’t good enough to be born as a Jew, now you also had to be born again. It seemed to much of the jewish world that the gentiles were taking their privileged place. In today’s passage Paul is talking about this very basic essence of spirituality; you have to believe the report of the gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word. What word? The word of the gospel; that Christ died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and is sitting at the right hand of God as our High Priest. Only those that believe that report can be made righteous before the Lord. Here is how Luther describes this passage.

“I was found of them that sought me not. Isaiah writes this against the Jews who boasted of their merits. The Jews certainly do not like to hear that they have been rejected. When Christ told them that at the time of Elias there were many widows in Israel, but that the prophet was sent only to the pagan widow in Zarephath, they wanted to hurl Him over a precipice. For they perceived that they were rejected before the heathen and regarded as unworthy (of salvation). For them this was an unbearable thought; they were proud of the blood of the Fathers and boasted of the righteousness of the Law. But here it tells them: I have made myself known to them, (the Gentiles), because of my grace and not because of the zeal or merits of any man. Here the word applies: “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased”. All this was written and done in order that the overbearing arrogance of men (in spiritual matters) might be suppressed and the grace of God might be magnified. For “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”.

So who has believed the report? Those whose ears have been opened by the Lord by grace through faith. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable grace.

THE ELIXIR OF GRACE

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS –

“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.1:7,8

I am always amazed at us human folk walking around the earth and never seeing or savoring Christ. With heads bent down we scuffle along drinking what this world dishes out. As a young child I loved to be outdoors but never “saw” the God who created it all. He was screaming but his voice fell to deaf ears. Thanks be unto God the day that I saw, I touched and felt his Love! But brother what pain and suffering I endured pre-Christ!

McClarens says, “God is Love, and therefore delights in imparting that which is His creatures’ life and blessedness. He, too, is capable of being touched and gladdened by the joy of expression. Creation is divine self-revelation, and we might say, with all reverence, that God acts as birds sing, and fountains leap, and stars shine.” God is like an artist that loves to show his works off to others and finds so much joy in doing so. We too become objects of his love- his artwork so to speak.

His work of Grace is at the top of the in God’s work of art. While the deer leap, fishes jump and the turkeys gobble, the “Grace of God continually communicates and operates unspent” (McClaren says) and “that self-communicating love pours out in no narrower stream to its last recipient than to its first. All ‘eat and are filled,’ and after they are satisfied, twelve baskets full of fragments are taken up. These riches are exceeding; they surpass all human conception, all parallel, all human needs; they are properly transcendent.”

When we are born-again we taste this elixir of grace the rest of our lives and into eternity he will keep pouring it out. We throughout, our lives learn to lean into this grace to trust its fullness and witness it daily in its exhaustible abundance.

McClaren ends with “God reveals because He loves, and His love is that which He reveals”. I pray you too will taste this precious grace!

WALKING THROUGH SHADOWS

Psa.23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This verse has been a major comfort to dying believers for 3000 years. The amazing thing about God’s word is that it applies to many different circumstances. Even though this verse speaks of death I believe it also refers to the darkest of days in our lives when we may fear death or even wish we were dead. For the non Christian, we face the darkest days alone. It’s funny how the friends thin out and disappear when the going gets really tough, not so with the Lord. He is often more present when you face the valley of the shadow of death. Not only does He give us promises that He will bring us through, He gets in the middle of the mess with us. When we are at our weakest, He will show Himself strongest in our lives. Here are some thoughts from Albert Barnes on this amazing promise.

“Thou wilt be with me. Though invisible, thou wilt attend me. I shall not go alone; I shall not be alone. The psalmist felt assured that if God was with him he had nothing to dread there. God would be his companion, his comforter, his protector, his guide. How applicable is this to death! The dying man seems to go into the dark valley alone. His friends accompany him as far as they can, and then they must give him the parting hand. They cheer him with their voice until he becomes deaf to all sounds; they cheer him with their looks until his eye becomes dim, and he can see no more; they cheer him with the fond embrace until he becomes insensible to every expression of earthly affection, and then he seems to be alone. But the dying believer is not alone. His Saviour God is with him in that valley, and will never leave him. Upon His arm he can lean, and by His presence he will be comforted, until he emerges from the gloom into the bright world beyond.”

What kind of dark valley have you wandered into? You are not alone. As the Lord told Paul in the midst of his persecutions, “My grace is sufficient”. Sufficient ? I say more than sufficient. He is my light in darkness, my strength in my weakness, my wisdom when confused. He is my portion and my joy and more than enough no matter what valley I go through. Remember, it only the “shadow” of death.

FACEBOOK THEOLOGIANS

Rom.6:15 – What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!

I have come to the conclusion that social media is the judgement of God on this generation. You might wonder why on earth I would say something like that. It’s really quite simple. Social media is the great equalizer. Anyone can have the mic and say whatever pops into their head. I am shocked at all the live preaching services that have erupted in the last couple of years on social media. The theology being preached would be quite humorous if it wasn’t so dangerous. One of the favorites is the “grace message”. You know, just like what Paul referred to in today’s verse. “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Sounds shockingly familiar. Grace has been dragged through the mud to allow for Christians to live like all of the others in our godless society.

What is this grace that Paul was so adamant about? Didn’t Paul say that Christ justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5)? Absolutely. Everything we have ever done is absolutely done away with by the death of Christ. But this grace never stops there. We are not only forgiven we are changed. We have been born again. Yes, there is more than forgiveness purchased by the cross. The cross leads to the resurrection that brings us into a whole new way of life.

It’s amazing to me that the proponents of this new so called grace message actually think it is new. Paul was obviously dealing with it in his day, Augustine wrote volumes about it in the 400’s, Luther even gave it a name. He called it antinomianism. The preachers of this new grace message have actually just fallen into an age old cesspool. Just another reason to let your flesh take over.

Now let’s get to the good news. Grace is much more powerful than sin. The sinful tendencies that reign in the hearts of the lost and try to creep back into a believer’s life are no match for God’s grace. God’s grace is the luring pull upon our hearts to become captured and overcome by the love of God. The love of God is so much sweeter than the foolish pleasures of sin. When you fall prey to the Master’s love, leaving behind the old vices are not that hard. Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? To those that have drunk from the cup of grace the question doesn’t even make sense. Drink from the cesspool or from the bubbling springs of living water? What a choice!!!

THE ALL SUFFICIENT GOD

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Cor. 12:9

Last week Frank and I were invited to a charity fund raiser in the Northwest. While he golfed and enjoyed fellowship with other pastors, I decided to do some exploring on my own after reading about a hill next to the resort that boasted of a 2.5 mile hike. The next morning I found myself in a forest of evergreen trees of verdant green against a backdrop of glacier lakes and mountains as far as the eye could see. The Lord even had it where I came across two fawns grazing in the rocks, ospreys feeding their young and little chipmunks running around. Talk about his abundance! He is the all sufficient one reminding us everyday that he has everything we need and more. More than what I saw, He was there bringing refreshment in overflowing proportions! Spurgeon says, “There is something in every Name of God which may breed faith in our souls. Whether we know him as Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai, or Lord, or by whatsoever other name he has been pleased to manifest himself, that title becomes the ground of our confidence, and is the means of fostering faith in his people’s minds, when they come to understand its meaning. To a trembling people the Lord enlarges on his wonderful names. I think he also does it to excite our wonder and our gratitude. He that loves us so much is Jehovah: he that can create and destroy; he that is the self-existent God; he, even he, has set his heart upon his people, and loves them and counts them precious in his sight. It is a marvelous thing. The more one thinks of it, the more shall he be overwhelmed with astonishment, that he who is everything should love us who are less than nothing. It is the Holy One who has deigned to choose, and to love unholy men, and to look upon them in grace, and save them from their sins. That you may bow low in loving gratitude, God lets you see who He is.”

God is always showing us different angles of his glory and his love. He doesn’t want to go unnoticed nor be buried in the everyday. He waits to be needed, for someone to push away from life and reach upward. Way too many of us miss those special moments of his touch and it doesn’t have to be on some mountain. He comes in the everyday we just need to participate. To learn to move beyond the stuff that pulls away our attention and clamors to be heard. God is forever roaring as the All Sufficient One!