“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.

“I Am What I Do Today”

Journal entry, March 22. 2009
Background: My mom’s death, March 13, 2008, was the event that kicked off my journey of recovery and transformation from pornography use and self-harm (and many other things). (Jokingly, I like to say that “18-1” that February might also have had a little something to do with it…) A little more than a year later, I wrote a series of very introspective entries about what I had learned – how I had already changed – in those short twelve months of recovery (and eight months of sexual sobriety). [Minor edits in brackets.]

This entry is entitled “What do I mean by ‘I am what I do today?'”

I am what I am – a man who must follow some strict behaviors in order to be sexually pure for his wife.
man who believes fervently in God and Jesus.
man who takes one moment at a time.
man learning to be whole.
whole man, fighting to stay that way.
man who is loved, by God, by his family and friends.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stands against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:10-11

What do I mean by “I am what I do today?”

This statement is in the present tense. Now is all I can affect. I can not change the past. The future will always be something yet to come.

While it is true that what I have done can be used to define me, whole-ly, without considering my recovery, it is most honest, and most considerate to me, to look at what I am doing now. In this sense, these eight months [since my suicide attempt in July] do outweigh the previous 32 years [basically, since puberty].

This is why I introduce myself as a “recovering (present tense) child of God” at [my sex addict support] group. I am a man with a past that contains perversity and deprivation BUT I recognize and admit that my actions were sinful (and there is only one kind of sin). I have confessed (past tense) those actions and been forgiven (past tense) for those actions. I am a believer in God and His Son, Jesus, and His plan for my salvation. Each day is my chance to show and live this.

The keyword in “I am what I do today” is “do”. Faith/belief together with action is expressed by this word. It shows that I know I must live by/within limits – because I am (present tense) how I have been made (past tense) to be. This is the only way my past is a part of me today. I need, I must adhere to strict behaviors or risk falling back down to a level I, with God’s help, have risen [above] and continue to rise daily above. [I think I kind of stress God’s part in the recovery more in 2016.]

Some will say, “Once a pervert, always a pervert.” All I can say is, “I am what I do today, not what I have done yesterday, nor what I could do tomorrow.”

If a man is condemnable for his past or future, then we are all bound for hell, for we all have had or will have moments or [even just] thoughts of sin.

So, do not throw the first stone. [This was my first realization of “Judge not, lest you be judged.”]

[End of entry.]

Today (2016), I can see that this line of thought was one of my first steps on the path of forgiving myself, (and truly accepting God’s forgiveness of me). In retrospect, it is easier for us (those filled with shame and guilt over the things we did after we were warped by the things that were done to us) – it is easiest for us to forgive others and hardest, still, to forgive ourselves. Because of this difficulty, we have a hard time understanding how God forgives.

When doubt about God’s existence hits me, doubt about my forgive-able-ness follows right behind, and I again cycle through James 1:8

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

“The past is history.
The future is a mystery.
Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.”

All ability comes from and for you.

So many juicy, lush phrases I could use as the title for today’s blog!

“I love James Altucher.”

“Oh, So Trippable.”

“O.T.” Another Way to Spell “Ought”.

“Pridefall”.

“Desire Does Not Equal Ability”.

“Blog-Plug. AKA Name Drop”

“I Must Be Getting Better”.

Maybe starting at the beginning will help me to choose. It’s become usual for me to wake early. Can I call it “overwhelming desire to get together with the Lord?” Yes. Yes, I do nap during the day – OK, that might have something to do with it. But, in reverse. Which came first, the napping or the early rising? (With my myriad health issues, these are patterns that developed together. Note: did you know “myriad” classically means a unit of ten thousand? And, as an adjective, it means “countless or extremely great in number.” So, it would be correct to write “a myriad of issues,” or “myriad issues”. That’s some cool and useful knowledge, right there!)

Where was I? Oh, yes. I must be getting better. About getting up early. And napping. Less. Or more! Getting better at writing – ’cause I didn’t make it past the editorial intro, “Flexing Your Muscles“, to the May-June issue of Men of Integrity magazine before my brain was churning out blog ideas. I really love this publication. It’s full of week-long excerpts from relevant books, which really compounds your reading list. Please, check it out.

Blog-Plug two: a book I’m already tempted (in a good way) to get, and the subject of said editorial, Tim Chaddick’s The Truth About Lies. Such beautiful and true combinations of words, both in the intro and quoted from the book! (Including the word lush.) “Each time we choose truth in the face of a lie, we are, in a sense, flexing muscles in our spiritual life that grow stronger with each challenge.” “Ever since our first mother and father chose to indulge…” “…the empty promises of forbidden fruit, or, will we obey God and trust that his rewards are better?”

Obey. Trust. OT (pronounced “ought”). We OT to obey and trust. A new acronym! (We Celebrate Recovery people love acronyms!) (That was plug three, of course.)

“I want the pleasure of sin more than the reward of obedience.” “…When you reject temptation, your allegiance to Christ grows stronger” [like] “…athletes… fueled by a love for their sport that … gives them the resolve to reject… they grow a little bit stronger, faster, tougher.” Recently, when I was choosing video games over remaining abstinent, I could literally feel myself saying, in effect, I want this more. How humbling!  How great to be given the words to so aptly describe what I was feeling! (“Apt” is an excellent acronym word. Stand by for a good meaning.)

The only caveat I would add, though, is still, oh, so trippable. Perhaps, we become more able for our purpose (to compete in the sport). However, my pridefall warning bells were clanging at the thought that I could ever be – in my own strength – better able to lift myself out of harm’s way. It might be better (for me) to say it is my desire to obey that grows, but not my ability. I forever will depend on Jesus for that.

I’m reminded of my brother-in-law, Marty. Because he was in the Air Force, he would run a lot. One day, his foot hit a sidewalk slab that was uneven – and his femur snapped! All the training was as nothing, and he still limps today.

“Each test that temptation brings your way is another opportunity to affirm and grow your love for Jesus.” So very true! “… Use it as a reminder to praise and profess your obedience…”, to declare emphatically your belief and faith “… that his way is better.”

Wow, I feel like I didn’t actually do any of the writing of this entry – so much of it was quotes. But that leaves just one name-drop to explain: I Love James Altucher. James is a blogger and author and pod-caster, founder (if that’s the right word) of the Choose Yourself approach to life in this new era. I credit him as the one who finally got me writing and delivering – no, that’s the wrong word – pursuing my creative dreams and what I believe is the big piece of God’s vision for me, Sharing God’s Story in my life. James is famous for recommending the practice of “write 10 ideas every day.” In other words, just do it. That got me just writing, which has turned into a post almost daily for me. Thank You, James!

Thank You, Heavenly Father, Saviour Son, and Holy Spirit within. All ability comes from and for you.