“But For The Grace Of God”

“But For The Grace Of God”

Did you know there are five single-chapter books in the Bible? I found this out, I’m slightly ashamed to say, when, in response to a challenge to read a book of the Bible, I sought out the shortest one. (I have always looked for the easiest way. To be fair, though, I  resolved to read all five to complete the test.)

If you are curious, allow me to save you the time it would take to look them up. They are: Obidiah, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

So, this morning, as I contemplated how to get my time in the Word, I decided to have a look at one of these books, and chose Jude. Some translations will have “headers” to different sections of verse, and Jude started out ominously, “The Warnings of History to the Ungodly.”

As I read, a cliche came to me and I dug a little further into it. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” is commonly attributed to John Bradford, a preacher in sixteenth-century England. The supposed occasion for the saying was the sight of convicted criminals going to their execution. The inference I take is that the fate of the wrong-doers was something Bradford had been unconditionally pardoned from; which is to say he believed himself to be deserving of the same punishment, or worse. (If there could be anything worse. If you believe, I think you’d agree there are several things worse than a swift death.)

(As a side note, the ‘history’ Jude lists are: the post-Exodus destruction by God of some of His people, the angels who followed Lucifer in being thrown down from heaven, and the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah.)

What research showed, however, is a complete reversal in the saying’s meaning in modern times. Nowadays, we might intone the phrase whenever we see someone who’s experiencing some bad luck or misfortune. The change is as if it were not villains the speaker is observing, just some poor innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time. I assure you, God’s Amazing Grace is not some lottery prize only for those with some winning combination of circumstances. It is a free gift offered to every living person, simply waiting to be received, enjoyed, and employed.

Do you see? The new interpretation is one of victimhood. “I’ve done nothing to deserve this,” we claim now. Certainly, we are guaranteed storms in this life, and we are unlikely to understand why ‘this’ is happening to us. But “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “Human” and “perfect” are two words that can not be set together, except when referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, what grace allows is our continuation of this human journey. It is progress, not perfection, we seek. And what we often need is convincing to carry on.

One source indicated Bradford was paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, in which Paul is explaining why he is the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church in his past, and: 

:10 God’s kindness made me what I am, and that kindness was not wasted… I worked hard… [but] it was not I who did it, but God’s kindness was with me.

Jude also states this concept of a divine reprieve, and the opportunity for us to change which it makes possible. We are invited to redouble our efforts to accept His assistance and the sacrifice which provides the ultimate for us, and to:

:20-21 …use your most holy faith to grow. Pray with the Holy Spirit’s help. Remain in God’s love as you look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you eternal life. (GW translation)

I really like the sense of urgency the AMP version gives to this:

…waiting anxiously and looking forward to the mercy of our Lord…

“Anxious for mercy.” The Grace of God. It’s not about my fortunes or rich circumstances, but about a constant acknowledgement of my real blessing in receiving the ultimate in undeserved favor. The greatest gift. So, maybe it is like winning the lottery, after all.

By the way, as for John Bradford, he was burned at the stake in 1555.

If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

Every day’s the same. Every day is different. All true.

20 thousand days I’ve experienced now. This morning, as I sat on the edge of my bed, I considered that number. It’s rather large. One would think I would’ve got it all down with so much practice, but this is my first try. I’ve been here many times, but it’s brand new to me. I’ve seen everything, but my eyes have just been opened.

bridge 4What is it that makes each awakening so similar yet so unfamiliar? Each day is an unmet opportunity and a second chance to live again, just one of many steps on a single, long journey. I think maybe it’s that I’m able now to look up and around more at the scenery I’m passing and the people traveling with me, instead of down at my feet, wishing for better boots and learning how not to stumble. Learning how to live … “righteously,” but that’s not quite the right word. Righteous is old and has been overused.

So I looked up some synonyms and found three that fit my feelings.

Blamelessly

“Innocent of wrongdoing.” For sure. I’m serious! My faith – I pray – helps me to strive to become more like the child I was – by grace and (a lot of) effort. The 12 steps have taught me something about forgiveness and amends. I know I still make mistakes, but my voyage is one of progress, not perfection.

Well

bridge 3I can’t describe this one in my own words, so here are some apt phrases from its definition: “in a good or satisfactory way;” “in a way that is appropriate to the facts or circumstances;” “with praise or approval;” “in a thorough manner;” “intimately, closely;” “sensibly, advisably.” (Note that I didn’t include the one about being comfortable or well-off.) The one thing I’d change here is to make all those “or’s” be “and’s.”

Justified

Again, not my words: “having, done for, or marked by a good or legitimate reason;” “declared or made righteous in the sight of God.” I really like that last one, except that I would add “by God,” “by God’s grace.” This (He) is really what never changes.bridge 1

Even when you are old I will be the same, and when you are grey-haired I will take care of you; I will still be responsible for what I made; yes, I will take you and keep you safe.
(Isaiah 46:4 The Bible in Basic English)

bridge 2So, yes, every day is the same, but different. And what I encounter for the first time is each section of the course, the unique path I’m on, and my attitude about how closely I’m determined to follow it. If life is a river, it’s the landscape that changes, from the mountains and hills of rocky youth, to gently sloping plains of early productive maturity, to the “olderness” at the approaching river’s mouth and, at long last, its entrance into the sea.

As usual, I know a praise and worship song that fits, but it’s lyrics aren’t available online so, I’ll include them below. It’s still available on YouTube here.
You can download it for just $0.99here

Let All I Do Be Praise

Every day’s the same
Heaven and earth so far away
Father, don’t take this as complaint
But I need You here

So won’t you come sweep me off my feet
Tether my heart to presence deep
Father, my spirit seems so weak
So I need You here

Cause I wanna live in Your presence
I wanna dance all my days
My soul will sing of Your goodness
My heart will shout for grace
I live my life as a story
That You be seen in my ways
And in the light of Your glory
Let All I Do Be Praise

I wanna live with You
I wanna serve You
I wanna sing to You
Only to You

I worship You, Lord

I wanna sing
I wanna dance
I wanna live
I wanna laugh
I wanna give praise to You, God

My Past Must Stay Passed

My Past Must Stay Passed

This is a post about a key part of being made new; living (present tense) in recovery today. My past must stay passed. I’ve posted about this before (patient-for-the-present/), but it’s worth repeating. Much of my falling down is caused by my falling back, re-living the same old hurts and habits. I literally repeat the same old bad behavior, expecting a different result.

Because I am doing something new! Now you will grow like a new plant. Surely you know this is true… (Isaiah 43:19a ERV)

Think of a plant, overgrown in a little pot. It’s roots are cramped. It stagnates, or worse. It stays small and it looks dreary. But move it to a bigger pot and it blossoms and increases. The moment I entered recovery was like being put into that bigger pot, with fresh new soil and room to grow and stretch.

Clearly, I remain the same person, my past doesn’t change, but now everything is new and full of potential. Bigger and better, I flower into the beauty the potter (lol I like the redefinition!) intended. And anything becomes possible, even what had seemed impossible before:

I will even make a road in the desert, and rivers will flow through that dry land. (v :19b)

But I remember that God is the difference, as the verse shows. (‘You’ will grow, ‘I’ will make.)  It’s not me on my own. Humbly, I acknowledge that He is the change in my life.

One of the things I like about the Celebrate Recovery 12-Step program is in its first word, ‘Celebrate!’ Present tense, it means now! This moment! It reminds me that I’m on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment journey of progress, not perfection. It reminds me to consider all the growing I have done: into a for-real worship musician, a program leader and teacher, a testimony sharer, and a volunteer experiencing the benefits of giving and service instead of taking, hoarding, and selfishness. I am living and not just existing!

Today I’m focusing on the new, the now, and what’s on the way, both in this life and the next. I can remember and accept my past and that it can’t be changed. But my past doesn’t define who I am now, and I understand that I do not have to keep going back to it, as if there is an answer in it.

Verse :18 puts it more directly:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

A great song that expresses this letting go of what’s behind is Let It Fade by Jeremy Camp.
Download it here for only 69 cents!

Have you been walking on a surface that’s uncertain?
Have you helped yourself to everything that’s empty? yeah!
You can’t live this way too long.
There’s more than this, more than this.

Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest, you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.

Have you been holding on to what this world has offered?
Have you been giving in to all these masquerades?
It will be gone, forever gone.
It will be gone, it will be gone

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.
Let it fade.

Are you carrying the weight too much?, are you running from the call?
Let it fade, Oh yeah.
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?