The Good Dentist

In C.S. Lewis’s heart-rending book, A Grief Observed, he chronicles his intensely personal journey through the fog and madness of losing his wife to cancer. If you’ve never read it, it’s definitely worth the read.

This short paragraph caught my eye yesterday:

What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?

We say, “God is good–all the time.”

Is God good because He always gives us good things? Does God want us to be always comfortable and pain-free? Does God want us to be always wealthy and healthy?

It’s a fact–God IS good all the time–but it’s also a fact that we experience periods of (sometimes intense) suffering on this cursed globe. Lewis lost his Joy, his best friend and lover, to cancer, leaving a gaping hole in his life and heart which took a long time to heal.

But does it ever heal? Scars remain.

A friend lost her dad this week. Another just lost her mom. There’s a time to rejoice and a time to weep, and sometimes the times for weeping seem to swallow up the rest.

But what does Lewis mean by “Have they never even been to a dentist?”

A dentist must hurt, must cause pain, must do things that feel violent. The patient, who was once convinced this small torture was a good thing, now just wants it to stop–let it be done! Yet, plead as he may, the dentist determinedly drills on, not because he enjoys to cause pain, but because he knows this pain is necessary in order for the patient to be whole and healthy again.

Our Lord, the Great Physician, knows our needs before we ask. He knows better than we.

When we pray for healing and grace, what do we expect? Do we expect all pain to suddenly vanish? When we pray for growth and patience and endurance, for what exactly do we ask? Do we think God will suddenly drop it in our hearts with no effort from us? When has anyone ever gained strength without exercise? When has anyone ever advanced without work?

Every one of us will endure pain and hardship. Wealth doesn’t shield a person from cancer. Health does not remove the pain of a rebellious child. The greatest relationship with your spouse will not shield you from the ultimate separation. This earth is still under a curse, evil happens, BUT God is in control! Do we trust Him?

Hebrews 12.3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

            “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
      nor be weary when reproved by him.
            6       For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
      and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Sometimes God is the good dentist.

Dead to the Law–Alive to God

How Am I Dead to the Law?

In Galatians 2.19, Paul writes, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” He follows quickly with an explanation: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul died with Christ! Christ died on the cross once for all time, and “we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Cor. 5.14). All who are in Christ have undergone a death to sin (Rom. 6.1-11) and a death to law (Rom. 7.4).

In fact, the reason we are dead to sin is because we are dead to law. Paul points out in Romans 7 that we are beholden to the law (married to it) as long as we both shall live, but when one dies, she is released from her spouse (the law). She belongs to a new spouse—Jesus Christ.

Another way of saying this is that we are no longer under law but under grace (Rom. 6.15).

Too many Christians continue to walk as if they are under law. They anxiously fret and wonder, “Am I good enough for God, and will I get into heaven?” They look at this life as if God is giving a cosmic test—whoever gets all the answers right will get into the kingdom.

Conversely, too many Christians walk as if law no longer applies to them. They claim liberty from anything and everything and walk however they please. Paul answered that in many places, including

  • Romans 6.1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”
  • Romans 6.15: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
  • Galatians 2.18: “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!”

How can I walk in grace and not under law?

Law kills. Law defines sin, righteousness, and punishment. Law has no compassion or mercy—only justice.

Grace gives life. Grace forgives. Grace empowers. Amazingly, grace not only extends mercy to law-breakers, it teaches us how to love and keep God’s law!

“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom. 7.22)

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Tit. 2.11-14)

God gives His grace to us, and we who walk in it extend it to others. It’s a beautiful, wholesome, powerful walk. Our motivations are completely changed—we no longer live in fear of our soul’s jeopardy, we understand that Jesus’ sheep cannot be taken from His hand (John 10.27-29). We know He always forgives when we ask. We are His children, and He loves us as children. We love Him because He first loved us—and His love makes us want to serve Him, want to love others, and want to obey Him completely.

Those who walk as libertines—those who throw God’s law out the window—do not know God’s grace.

Those who walk in fear and anxiety—those who wonder what laws they might unknowingly be breaking and who list (and add) law upon law to be sure to keep them all—do not know God’s grace.

Do you know God’s grace? Are you dead to the law and alive to God?

The Great Exchange

Do you know what Jesus did on that cross? Many Christians see Jesus’ death as the biggest “I love you” in history–but they don’t understand exactly why Jesus had to die or what He accomplished.

Isaiah 53 describes in awful detail some of the atrocities Jesus endured at the cross. Among the details we find the Great Exchange.

On the cross, Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa. 53.4), and the Lord laid on Him all our sins (Isa. 53.6). Though He never incurred any personal guilt, Jesus shouldered a burden that was not His–the sins of all His people.

Before He was crucified, Jesus reminded His disciples of this verse: “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22.37; Isa. 53.12). Two thieves were nailed to crosses on either side of Him. He was counted as a run-of-the-mill law breaker (even as they let Barabbas, the real law breaker, walk free). Jesus was telling His disciples that He must be counted as a sinner and treated as a sinner according to Scripture.

So one half of the Great Exchange was that Jesus took our sins upon Himself. But that’s just one half.

Isaiah 53.11 says this:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
           by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Because of Jesus’ suffering and anguish, many are counted as righteous! Jesus was counted as a sinner so we can be counted righteous. More than just being considered righteous, righteousness is accounted to us (Rom. 3.21-22; 4.3ff).

Another passage which lays out the Great Exchange is 2 Corinthians 5.11-21. Verse 15 tells us, “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

To begin with, God is “not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5.19), but further, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5.21).

Christ became sin. We become the righteousness of God.

That is totally amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring.

Thank You, Dear Lord, for doing what was entirely impossible for any man or woman on earth to accomplish! You have done it. You have conquered and overcome the enemy of sin and death, and we bow in humble admiration and gratitude and follow You wherever You lead.

Grace Overflowed

Only those who have received grace can give grace to others.

Has God given you gifts you did not deserve? Does He continue to forgive you and love you despite constant failings, foibles, and falls? Do you find new mercies every morning?

Jesus said the woman who anointed His feet with her tears and ointment had been forgiven of many sins–therefore she “loved much.” Those who are forgiven just a little “love little” (Luke 7.47). It’s not a matter of how many sins a person has–it’s how he views his sins and his need for Christ.

If you feel you are generally a good person and have relatively little to be forgiven of, you won’t feel or understand the grace of God like your neighbor who realizes how rotten he is. Each of us should echo Paul’s words to Timothy:

1 Tim. 1.12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

I was an opponent of Jesus Christ. I fought against Him.

“Surely you weren’t that bad,” someone charitably offers.

Jesus said you are either with Him or against Him. I was not with Him; therefore, I was against Him.

Yes, I gave myself over to my flesh and refused to bow to my King.

What about you? Have you recently reflected on the depth of your sin? Do you know the mercy God personally extended to you? Do you know the grace that overflowed for you? Do you recognize yourself as the chief of sinners who God saved?

Only those who have received God’s grace can share it with others. If you are still holding on to your “goodness,” if you still think you are generally a good person (as opposed to all those bad ones), and if you see in yourself some level of personal righteousness, you will not be able to extend grace to others. You’ll hold them to the same standard that you erroneously believe you are living up to. You’ll say things like,

  • “I’m not going to help them–they never should have gotten themselves into that situation.”
  • “I never would have done that. What an idiot.”
  • “If they would just work harder to get over their addiction, maybe they’d be better suited for the kingdom of God.”
  • “What is this–the fifth time they’re asking for forgiveness? I’m not sure I can believe they are really repenting this time.”

This is what Jesus meant by, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7.2).

I try to constantly remind myself of my own sinful tendencies so I’ll recall how GREAT my debt is and how MUCH Jesus bore of my own sins on the cross. I stand before my God empty, naked, ashamed. Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling. And God loved me. Period. He forgave me. He didn’t ask me to do some incredible, amazing, spiritual feat–He just told me to follow His Son, to believe in Him and obey Him.

All is well.

So, Friend, I will try to give you the grace God has given me. You don’t deserve my grace, as I don’t deserve God’s! He forgave me of so much. Surely I can forgive you.

God’s grace overflowed for me. It has to spill over.

Created to Do Good Works

Despite what many believe, God created men with a purpose that they didn’t and don’t get to decide. He created us in His image, and as His image-bearers we should act like Him. He works for our benefit and to His own glory; therefore, we should also work for the benefit of each other and for God’s glory.

God’s grace appeared to us to bring salvation for all people (Titus 2.11). And what does His grace accomplish among His people?

1) It trains us TO RENOUNCE ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2.12a)

Paul lists a few of these worldly passions in Titus 3.3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

Does that ring any bells? Does any of that describe your old self? Or your present self? Do you see this all around you? This is worldliness. This is what it’s like to be without God’s grace.

We renounce these things in our lives, in a decision known as repentance.

2) It trains us TO LIVE self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2.12b)

A Christian learns to live properly, the way God designed him to live.

You cannot control your wife or husband, parents or children. The only person you can control is YOU. God expects you to work on you. Too often, we spend our lives trying to control others, an activity as sinful as it is impossible. As we try to control others, we fail to control ourselves. Focus on your own self.

This present age is evil. There is an age to come in which righteousness will dwell, but right now we are surrounded by wrong thinking, wrong speaking, and wrong acting. By God’s grace and power we can live godly lives in the midst of it. God saves us so that we are able to live properly.

3) It teaches us TO WAIT for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13)

We have an anchor for our souls, a steadfast hope of eternal life promised by God many times in the Bible. How can we be so confident? Paul proceeds to write more about our Savior Jesus Christ…

“who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2.14)

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. (That sounds like a great beginning to a song…) He redeemed us. He purified us. If we see His great love for us, how can we doubt that He will finish what He started? How can we doubt that He will fulfill His promise to give us eternal life?

So who are you, dear Christian? You are a redeemed, purified, saved individual who has been created in Christ Jesus for good works.

So get to work, and may you find blessing and may God be gloried in your work!

How Can You Be Holy?

How can you be holy?

You can try really hard.

Many Christians think that’s what they are supposed to do. Do we picture God’s grace something like this?

God sent Jesus, who lived a perfect life and became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. When we initially came to Christ and obeyed Him by repenting and being baptized, our past sins were washed away. We started life over with a clean slate! We feel fresh and new, vibrant with new life. And we should! But now what? Past sins are finished (we are holy)…now we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world in order to stay holy.

So we try really hard, which seems to go well…until we start reading our Bibles. In God’s book, we discover sins we didn’t even know we had been committing! Lo and behold, God’s standard is perfection, and not just perfection in action but also in thought and motive. We realize how often our thoughts are not spiritually aligned. Anger besets. Unkindness prevails. Selfishness abounds. We must not be trying hard enough.

Through prayer, we admit to God our failings, promise to do better, and set ourselves again to try harder. But it never seems like enough. Trying harder does not achieve holiness!

ALERT: God doesn’t expect us to become holy by trying harder!

It was never His plan for us to become holy by our hard work. In fact, it’s impossible. God showed us through years and years of Old Testament history that no man CAN or DOES keep His law. Think of the most faithful men and women of the Bible. Which became holy because he tried really hard? Which conquered all his sin?

FACT: God’s grace isn’t something we only need “whenever we sin.”

We sinners need His grace at all times. We stand in His grace (Rom. 5.1-2; 1 Pet. 5.12) and are under grace (Rom. 6.14-15). We are saved by grace and not of works (Rom. 11.6; 2 Cor. 12.9; Eph. 2.7-9; 2 Tim. 1.9; Tit. 3.5-7). After God saves us, there is nothing we can look back to and say, “See what I did to save myself?” No boasting is possible for those who understand faith and grace, for God saves us by His work–not ours.

THEREFORE: We become holy by God’s work and not our own.

Folks, this is gospel–good news! Praise God He doesn’t save us based on our hard work! If that were so, we would continually ask, “Am I trying hard enough?” Unfortunately, many ask that because they have a wrong view of the gospel–really a different gospel–a man-centered, works-oriented gospel. Which, in fact, turns out to be bad news!

God declares us to be right with Him (that’s called justification) based on our faith (Rom. 3.21-4.8). Then He continues to cover our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ as we walk in the light with Him (1 John 1.7-2.2). John is not teaching that our sins are covered by our walking in the light (i.e., by our own works), but Jesus’ blood continually covers our sins as we patiently continue in fellowship with God. Walking in the light is actually a proof of the fact that Jesus’ blood is covering our sins. Does that mean we have no sin? No! “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We should never think we have worked our way to becoming sinless! If we did, we would then have something to boast about. But we are and will be saved because of the work Jesus did on the cross.

Also, God has given us His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1.4), and we are sanctified by Him (Rom. 15.16; 1 Cor. 6.11; 1 Thes. 4.3-8).

So don’t TRY to save yourself; TRUST Jesus in order to be saved.

CAVEAT: If you think I’m saying we can be saved without obeying God, I’m certainly NOT saying that! We have been saved in order to do Good Works (Eph. 2.10; Tit. 2.11-3.2; Rom. 6.1ff). Our lives reflect the reality of our relationship (or lack thereof) with God.

Encouragement for a Difficult Day

Are you down and depressed, forlorn, frustrated? These feelings oppress, smother, and threaten you.

Your mood affects your health. Once you were healthy, strong, vital. Why do you now feel week and worn?

Sometimes you cannot blame your irritation on anything specific. It almost seems irrational. No one has been especially ugly to you. The kids are just being kids. Your spouse is just living life next to you. But anything can set you off; you’re a loaded spring set with a hair-trigger.

Dear brother, sister, friend, neighbor, may I remind you of the reality of your spiritual health?

Most of us are worried, concerned, or discouraged by our past, present, and future! We look to our past and feel worthless. We think about our current situation and feel helpless. We ponder our future and feel hopeless. How can we continue living a productive, positive, and joyful life with these feelings? In short, we can’t.

Praise God, He deals with our past, present, and future! He changes the story, the trajectory, the aim of our lives.

Concerning our past, He says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2.25). Like the prodigal son, we recall how wasteful, how empty our past is. We realize we have sinned and fallen far short of God’s glory. We haven’t lived according to His will. But God forgives! “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31.34).

Concerning our present, He says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28.20). He has also said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13.5-6). Knowing we live in a state of forgiveness and grace fortifies us with amazing courage!

Concerning our future, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14.1-3). We Christians, of all people, live in hope! And our hope will not disappoint, because it is founded on the promises and character of God Himself.

I know depression and discouragement will come to all of us, even the strongest of Christians. Yet, our Awesome God encourages us through it all, coaxing us towards the finish line. Thank You, Lord for Your goodness every step of the way. We need You every hour. Never leave us or forsake us. Without You we are broken, nothing, powerless. But with You we conquer all things, even death itself!

I pray for all those whose hearts are heavy with loads of this life. May God strengthen you and give you hope and opportunity, and may your brothers and sisters encircle you to strengthen the failing hands and feeble knees.

I love you. God certainly loves you.

Radio Interview: Jail Ministry

What goes on behind the bars of our Parish jail? Men and women are busy each week teaching the Bible. Is this something you could do? Can you pray for the work being done?

Bob Ryals with “Voices of Slidell” on Grace Radio of Slidell interviewed Nathan Williams recently. They chat concerning Nathan’s ministry within the St. Tammany Parish Jail in Covington, LA.

 

How Patient and Kind Have You Been?

PatienceI’ve had days when I felt the beast welling up inside and, to my shame, exploded in anger towards my dearest loved ones. It’s a terrible feeling, as if I’m not completely in control. Even if I feel my anger is justified, usually in the aftermath I’ll realize I went too far in my words, tone, and actions.

When Paul wrote, “Love is patient,” he could have also written, “Love is difficult,” but maybe he thought we’d figure that out.

Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 13.4-7 love is always defined with verbs! It’s difficult to see in our English bibles, “Love is patient,” because patient is an adjective describing love. But some of the older versions render it better: “Love suffers long.” You can see the active verb better. Love is not a feeling or something we own; it’s expressed in action towards others or in response to others.

KindnessPatience and kindness relate to another pair of principles: mercy and grace. Whereas mercy withholds punishment from someone who deserves to be punished, grace blesses someone who does not deserve a blessing. Doesn’t patience relate nicely to mercy in that it waits and endures while another person irritates and provokes? Doesn’t kindness relate to grace in that it actively seeks to bless others, regardless of whether they deserve it?

Love is, indeed, the greatest command of God because in it we find both grace and mercy, both patience and kindness. I pray often that God will help me be more patient and kind with my family and with others.

How are you doing by way of fulfilling God’s greatest command, to love Him with all your heart? How are you doing with loving your neighbor as yourself? Test yourself today by thinking about last week–how patient and kind have you been?

The Fatal Flaw in Many Talk Show Hosts’ Reasoning

Over the years I have listened to talk show hosts like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levine. Lately, however, I’m increasingly less interested in their perspectives on the world. I have noticed a fatal flaw in their reasoning about human beings, which under-girds their thinking on a host of political and moral issues.

While they all speak of it, Glenn Beck is perhaps the most outspoken about the reality of evil in our world. The question is, HOW do they speak of it? How do they view evil, and how does it affect the rest of their worldview?

Speaking of the Western world’s conflict with ISIS, Glenn Beck states, “This is a war against evil.” No doubt.

In his book Deliver Us from Evil, Sean Hannity reacted against the 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center: “Evil exists. It is real, and it means to harm us.” No question.

But how do they understand evil? If people are out to kill us, they are evil. So what should we do about it? Usually, the remedy is to kill the offenders first. But when we kill them we are not evil because we are defending ourselves against evil. In other words, we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.

I also hear these same men claim (fairly often) that they believe “we” are basically good. Really?

There’s a glaring problem in their reasoning, but it’s not easy for us to see. In fact, I’ve heard many church-going folk follow similar lines of logic. How can we be basically good while they are basically evil? How did Western civilization become basically good? How did Islamic nations end up basically evil?

Those who believe they are basically good find it easy to choose a side and then paint all in opposition as the bad guys. The United States has polarized itself using this way of thinking. Democrats think Republicans are basically evil. Republicans think Democrats are basically evil. Libertarians think Dems and Reps are Satan’s spawn. Everyone has decided that his way of thinking is correct and that his heart is good. Those who think differently must be fighting for the other side.

As Christians, we should accept what God tells us about ourselves:

“…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8.21)

 

“God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7.29)

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13.23)

“…there is no one who does not sin…” (1 Kings 8.46)

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2.1-3)

Let us not draw lines where God hasn’t, and He draws those lines between the saved and unsaved, between believers and unbelievers. Those who commit acts of evil act according to their flesh–and ALL men walk in their flesh unless and until God saves them!

We should not be surprised at the levels of violence, sexual perversion, hate, contempt, in-fighting, power-grabbing, back-stabbing, and abuse in the world. We should be surprised when light shines brightly, when hope is born, when grace is offered–for that is the rarity.

Thank God for His mercy and His Spirit, who enables us to actually commit goodness and kindness. Without God’s grace this world would devolve into cataclysmic chaos, a deluge of darkness.

But with His grace there is hope, not for all men, but for those who submit to His Son and for those whom He changes from the inside out.

As long as we buy the lie that we are basically good they are basically evil, we will continue to walk in our own evil and call it good. We should own our own evil, taking it before God in confession and repentance, and perhaps then we can look at them with more grace and understanding. God’s grace tears down walls because it forces us to identify with other sinners.

So listen closely to your talk show hosts of choice. Listen to your congressmen and women. Listen to your President and Governor. See if they have this fatal misunderstanding of human nature. I hope it provokes you to become more critical in your weighing of their arguments.