Does Obedience Nullify The Grace Of God?

In John 9, a man who was born blind received a grace gift from Jesus.  Jesus made mud and put it on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to go to the pool of Siloam, and to wash in it.  In the words of the blind man, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

We need to note that Jesus required the man to do something to receive the grace gift.  He had to go.  Jesus specifically named the pool to which the man was to go; Siloam. The blind man went to that pool, and none other.  Jesus told the man to wash in the pool.  The blind man not only went to the pool, but he washed. This individual did what Jesus told him to do and he received his sight.

This blindman was required to exercise his faith in complete obedience before he received his sight.  Yet, his obedience never converted the gift to a wage.  It was a gift from the time Jesus made the mud to the time the man returned, seeing.

God gave the children of Israel the grace gift of manna.  Yet to receive the benefit of it, the children of Israel were required each day to gather just enough of it for that day.  The exception to the rule was Friday of each week.  On that day, they were to gather enough for two days because there would be no manna on the ground on the Sabbath. (Exodus 16:13-30)

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

When the children of Israel obeyed God, they received the blessing of the manna.  When they did not obey God, they received His rebuke.

These people were required to obey God to receive this gift from Him. Yet the manna never changed from being a gift into being a wage due to their obedience. (John 6:31-34)

The children of Israel received a grace gift from God when they were given the Promised Land.  Yet to receive the land, the people were required to demonstrate their faith by driving the native inhabitants from the land. (Numbers 33:50-56).  To keep the land, they were also required to faithfully obey God’s commands. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

To receive and to continue to enjoy the grace gift of the Promised Land, the children of Israel had to allow their faith to cause them to obey God.  Yet, the Land of Canaan never changed from being a gift into being a wage due to the expectation of obedience.

We today are told by Jesus, Peter, and Paul that salvation (the forgiveness of sins), is a grace gift.  (Ephesians 2:1-10). These authorities have also told us that we receive this gift by demonstrating our faith in penitently being baptized (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-7). When our faith prompts us to be immersed, we call upon the name of the Lord, and receive the promised washing away of our sins. (Acts 22:16)

Yet, like the lame man’s sight, the manna from above, and the Promised Land, when our faith prompts us to obediently submit to God’s plan for our salvation, the gift remains a gift.  Our obedience does not convert salvation into a wage.  We simply receive the gift which God so graciously offers us.

Think on these things.

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If All The Photos Have Accurately Captured My Outward Image, I’ll Always Look Like A Toad Frog!

“If you have 100 photos taken and in all of them you pretty well look the same, whether you like it or not, that’s what you look like.”  I once overheard a professional photographer make this statement while discussing how some clients mourn that they never “take a good picture”.

Over the past few years, my looks have been captured in several photographs. To me, in about all of the pictures,  I look like a smiling toad frog. I once had hope that the kiss of a princess would change me into a handsome prince, but my princess, Sarah (Hebrew name meaning princess), has kissed me several times and so far, there’s been no change.

Guess it’s not a curse. It’s just the way I look.

I’m okay with that.  It’s not the crooked nose, uneven teeth, hearing aids setting at the top of my ears, knot on the side of my neck, or unmanageable hair that counts.  It’s the person I truly see in the photos that matters.

I see a child of God. And that’s enough.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3) ESV

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If We Live In A Darkened House Where No Sunshine Can Invade It, Is It No Wonder We Can’t Enjoy The Blessings Of The Sun?

If we spend the vast majority of our time in a darkened house where the blackout curtains and shades are always pulled over the windows, we shouldn’t be surprised if we rarely realize that the world is actually a bright, sunshiny place. We shouldn’t be surprised that we have difficulty distinguishing night from day, nor should we be surprised that we rarely feel the energy rush which only a stroll in the sunshine can release.

It’s amazing the difference a single raised shade can make on the outlook of a person’s spirit.  Through an uncovered window, one can view life happening all about him. The magical rays of the sun can change a gloom-filled habitation into a house of hope and enjoyment.

A spiritual house continuously filled with the antics of politicians and the rhetoric of the news media will be a darkened house. A life continuously surrounded by drama expressing the frustrations of real or perceived injustices can’t help but be a house where the shades cover the windows. A christian who cannot discern nor incorporate the practical applications of the Bible into his everyday life will find himself dwelling in a spiritual house which appears gloomy and depressing.

But a life which is saturated with the truths and applications of God word will energize a person’s soul to the point that he can experience the joy Jesus came to give him.

To begin brightening your house, think on these verses:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) ESV

 “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) ESV

 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) ESV

 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8) ESV

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If The Sun Remains The Same, Why Is It Cold One Day And Warm The Next?

These are the kind of days that causes one to ask, “If the same sun shines with the same brightness and the same radiant heat upon the same spot on the earth, why is the temperature on that spot 15 degrees one day and 53 degrees the next?  Or better yet, why can that location experience the extremes of 100 degrees and 3 degrees within just a few months?”

The primary answer for the latter question is distance and angle. During the summer, Three Springs, KY is much closer to the sun and more fully faces the sun than it does during the winter.

However, distance and angle cannot fully account for the disparity of temperatures.  A couple of weeks ago, the high temperatures in our area were in the 50’s. At that time, we were farther from the sun and faced it more at an angle than we do today.  Today, we are just coming out of a weeklong, sub-freezing cold spell.  Yet during that cold spell we were closer to the sun than the week before.

The explanation as to how the same location on the earth can experience such an extreme disparity of temperatures in such a short time lies in the variation of conditions found within the atmosphere which stands between the location and the warming sun. Floating particles in the atmosphere may block the sun’s rays and widely distribute its heat one day, but they may allow the sun’s warmth to more directly reach the earth the next day. Atmospheric pressures and rapid air movement evaporate moisture from the ground at various speeds thus contributing to the disparity in temperatures.

The sun’s ability to heat the earth does not change. The change in the earth’s location and direction, plus the variation of atmospheric conditions account for the variance in temperatures for any given location on the earth.

Spiritually, we have all known individuals who have been warmed by the love of God during a major portion of their lives, and then for some reason, they become cold to the very thought that there is a God, let alone that He loves us. Perhaps we have experienced such a change in our own lives.

This causes us to ask, “Why?  Why can the same God shining on the same hearts with the same brightness and warmth produce love, awe, and respectful fear at one point in life, but then seemingly produce distain, disbelief, and contempt just a short time later?”

A major portion of the answer is distance and angle.  Most of the time, the closer we are to God, the more His presence warms our hearts.  Most of the time, the more fully we face him, the more likely we are to appreciate the love He radiates upon us.  When we turn away from God and begin walking away from Him, we become cold to the idea that He is the source of our existence and blessings.

However, distance and angle are not the only causes for the variations in spiritual temperature which we may experience.

Many times, the circumstances, pressures, and rapid lifestyle which surround us produce spiritual chilliness within us.  Friends, education, jobs, hobbies, relationships, desires, all serve to block the warmth of God’s love and to disseminate it so that we may cease to feel the warmth or even quit believing it exists.  Sometimes pressures and our rapid lifestyles simply drain us of all the faith and love we feel for God, and we begin to ask, “Where is that warmth in which I once joyously worshipped?”

God’s ability and desire to produce comforting warmth in our lives does not change. When we alter our distance and angle in relationship to God, His warming love does not change, but we cease to feel it.  When we experience the many pressures and circumstances that come with living in this world, we may very well be drained of any sensation we once cherished when we were touched by the rays of the true Sun.

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

 

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What Difference Would It Have Made If Daddy And Mama Had Reared Us Just 1 Mile Away From Our Old Homestead?

I was born and reared in Metcalfe County, Kentucky near a small community called Center.  The settlement was at one time called Lafayette, but the name was changed to Center because it is centrally located between four county seats; Edmonton (Metcalfe County), Glasgow (Barren County), Munfordville (Hart County), and Greensburg, (Green County).  From my childhood home, one could find himself standing in any of the other three counties by walking 1- 2 miles as the crow flies in the correct direction.

Today, as I traveled home from Glasgow, I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had my parents or their ancestors decided to live just 2 miles from the family farmstead. Had I been raised in Barren, Hart, or Green Counties, what would have been different about my current life?

We would have known and developed close relationships with a totally different set of neighbors, so my childhood friends would have been totally different.  I would have gone to a different school system, so I would have probably never met my wife. Receiving a different degree of secondary education at the hands of different teachers may have prompted me to choose a different direction in my collegiate education and vocation.  My family and I may have easily gone to a different congregation of the Lord’s church so that my faith and christian attitudes may have developed differently.

The list could go on, but the point is, just a small change in my childhood life could have made all the difference in the choices I have made throughout my life which have determined much of who I am.

We need to remember this principle when it comes to trying to help others handle and overcome problems within their lives.  These people may have been reared relatively close to us.  Their racial, social, ethnic, economic, religious, and familial environment may have appeared to have been like ours in most every way.  But, throughout the years, just a small, seemingly insignificant difference between our situation and theirs may have made a vast difference between our respective viewpoints of life.

Trying to understand these small differences could easily be the key to succeeding in our desire to help one another.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14) ESV

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Extra! Extra! Robot Vacuum Illustrates Life!

We received a robot vacuum cleaner for Christmas. It was a thoughtful gift and neat gadget.  The robot automatically vacuums our floor at a preset time each day.  It works its way around furniture, lamps, and cabinets. For the most part, it has no problems.

However, the vacuum does have difficulty working its way out from under the two bar stools we have at our kitchen counter.  It has no difficulty entering the space underneath the stools.  It just cannot seem to find its way back out.  For several moments, the machine’s sensors cause it to seemingly fear to completely exit its relatively unprotected environment. The vacuum cannot sense that it can easily fit through any of the three openings between the bar stools’ legs.

We are often like this robot.  We find ourselves in situations which we wish we could exit. These may be addictions, relationships, or trying circumstances. We look around us, and the exit-way appears wide enough, but when we try to leave, there always seems to be something blocking our way. The obstructions may appear neither large nor numerous, but they still effectively persuade us to remain within the unwanted circumstances.

Peter used the example of God rescuing Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate that God can rescue us from seemingly inescapable trials and circumstances. (2 Peter 2:6-10)

David, the Psalmist, sang that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:15-22)

God has promised, that he will never let us be tempted beyond our ability; he will always provide a way of escape so that we can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

The escape hatch will always be there, and we must never give up looking for it.

Then, once we find it, we must always be willing to take it.

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What Kind Of Footprint Are You Leaving In The Snow Of Life?

The mystery and magic of a fresh, undisturbed blanket of snow produces varying emotions within most of us.

As I stepped out onto our frozen deck in the predawn darkness, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unusual clarity which met my eyes. The rays of the surrounding security lights were intensified so that it almost appeared as if the sun were already peeping over the horizon.  That unusual brightness and the quiet solitude caused me to stop to relish the peacefulness of the moment.

The snow barely covered the grass. Winding ripples etched their way along the surface of the pure thin layer of frozen flakes.  These and the occasional telltale drift revealed the intensity of the cold wind which had blown throughout the night.  Knowing what could have been made me thankful that we did not receive a major amount of snow.

As I looked out upon the pure white, undisturbed blanket, a desire to leave tracks within it whelmed up.  In my younger days, I would not have hesitated to head out over the lawn and through the fields in playful fashion.  But I didn’t today.  I had other business.

I backed my truck out onto the covered road, secretly wanting to be the first to travel it.  I wanted to be the trailblazer who broke the pathway for all others.  I wasn’t.  There were signs of at least one other vehicle and an Amish horse and buggy which had traveled the pavement before me. Still, I could veer out of those established tracks, widening the pathway, and making my own marks on the morning.

In life, most all of us want to leave tracks which will tell others that we were here.

Sometimes we want to be a trailblazer, going where no one else has gone.  Sometimes we want to widen an established pathway, making the traveling easier for those who follow us. Sometimes we want to leave tracks beside a loved one’s footsteps, indicating that we walked hand-in-hand with her. Sometimes we simply want to leave a distinguishable footprint in the snow of life so that we can remind ourselves that we are important.  And then other times, we want to leave those unique footprints so that others can recall memories of our time together.

As we travel this life, striving to leave our footprints, may we always remember the Psalmist’s words:

“1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!

2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,

3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!

4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.

8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

(Psalm 119:1-8)ESV

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If I Tell You This Secret, Do You Promise To Keep It A Secret?

We all believe that there are things we have done in the past which remain a secret.  We each hope that these things will continue to be undisclosed forever.

I happened upon an “open” Facebook page designed to facilitate the bonding of individuals who have developed a shared aversion toward a specific group of people.  If I correctly understand the term “open”, only people who have been added to the group by the administrator can write a post, but anyone with a Facebook account can read the discussions.  The founder, who is also an admin of the page, stressed that if any of the members wanted to discuss details of their personal journey, there were “secret” groups available in which the members could comfortably divulge those details.  The admin claimed that “no one” would know that the members were a part of the secret group and that there would be no “judging” by any of the other members.  She promised that anything said within the group’s discussions would remain secret; nothing would be revealed to anyone outside the group.

These are wonderful claims.  I have no doubt that they are offered from a kind and sincere heart which only wants to help those with similar convictions.  But they are also unachievable claims.

As to the claim that “no one” will know that a person is a member of the group, the administrators will have that knowledge because they must add the members to the group. The other members will also know. Facebook employees who have the proper security clearance will have the potential of knowing the membership of the group as well as the opportunity to read any of the discussions. Anyone that as the ability to trace technological footprints will have the potential of knowing.

As to the claim that there will be no judging, the founder can only make that claim about herself.  She cannot speak for anyone else, not even those which she considers her closest confidants. Why?  Because everyone has his own morals and scruples.  Everyone has his own idea of what it means to “judge” another person. What the admin considers judgment may not be considered such by some of the members of the group; and vice versa.

Furthermore, the founder herself demonstrated judgement on the open page. Based upon certain posts, she encouragingly labeled individuals as honest, courageous, admirable, intelligent, etc. Those are judgments.

All of us have things we have done in the past, and things we are doing now, which we hope will remain secret forever.  We like to believe that the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” advertisements are true. We also hope that if someone does find out about the secret activities, those individuals will not “judge” us; generally meaning not condemn us.  We all wish these were reasonable expectations.

But both are unattainable.

Why?

“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

“The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)

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“I’ve Got The Fastest Retrieving Fishing Reel Ever Made!”

One of the gifts my daughter and son-in-law gave me over the holiday season was a rod and reel.  My son-in-law told me all about its quality craftsmanship, its gearing ratio, and the amount of line retrieved with each turn of the handle. He also told me that the reel was intended solely for freshwater fishing, and not saltwater. I listened to all the details, but not intently, because I am nowhere near an avid fisherman.

Later, because I wanted to know for sure if I could use the reel in saltwater conditions, I searched the manufacturer’s website for information.  I scanned the description of the model, and saw the numbers my son-in-law had quoted concerning gearing ratio and line retrieval.

In telling my brother about the gift, I told him that with each turn of the handle, the reel would pull in almost 30 feet of line.  My brother said, “Wow! That’s unbelievable! How far out do you plan on throwing the bait?”

It was then, and only then, that I stopped to think about what I thought that I had heard, what I believed that I had read, and what I had claimed about the gift.  There was no way that a reel could retrieve 30 feet of line with one turn of the handle.  That was ridiculous.

So, I went back to the description on the website.  It said the gearing ratio allowed the reel to retrieve 29.6” of line for each turn of the handle, not 29.6’. That extra mark at the end of the measurement made all the difference in the world.  The figure I had quoted to my brother came from a lack of listening, a lack of carefully reading, and a lack of meditating upon my thoughts before speaking.

Thankfully, my brother was the first person to whom I had spouted my foolishness.

Spiritually, if we are not careful, we can fall into this same type of foolishness.  Sometimes, due to a lack of interest or concentration, we can mishear the facts another person quotes to us. Sometimes, in scanning a passage of scripture, we can overlook a small word which totally changes the meaning of a statement; for instance, the word “if” or “not”. Sometimes, we can fail to thoroughly think our belief through to its logical conclusion.

My mistake in telling about the rod and reel led only to embarrassment.  A mistake in explaining the details of the gospel of Jesus may lead to eternal condemnation.

Be careful.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) ESV

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:5-7)

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Convicted By My Own Kitchen Cabinet!

I pass by huge houses and often think, “Those who live in that house will one day give an account for how they have used or misused the material blessings God has given them. That house is far more extravagant than is necessary to provide for the essentials of life. Think of all the needy people that could be helped with the excess and waste.”

And then I unload the dishwasher in our own house.  I spend several minutes trying to rearrange a single kitchen cabinet devoted just to coffee making; a cabinet filled with coffee cups, large mugs, stainless steel, insulated containers, many types of sweeteners, and several different flavors of coffee and tea.  When I get ready to brew my coffee, I choose between three different brewing appliances.

And I think to myself, “Craig, one day you will give an account for how you have used or misused the material blessings God has given you. And based on this cabinet, you will fail.”

Beware of judging another person’s house based on its outward appearance, because you may very well find the inside of your own house filled with the same type of guilt.

“2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:2-5) NIV

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