The Most Important Question You Will Ever Answer

There is not a single human being who hasn’t met, face to face, some element of God’s grace. His undeserved goodness, His kindness, His patience has laced the souls of men from the beginning of time. From the caution to Cain to be careful, “sin is crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7). All the way to the end, “And let the one who is thirsty come” (Rev. 22:17), the Scriptures are steeped with grace.

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 4:29-5:2
Key Verse: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18

Not to mention the breaths in between. The deep inhales of an orange and pink sunrise, a sloppy baby kiss, a tender I’ll-never-forget-this moment, a tulip in spring, a filling of peace, a long-awaited hello. It’s entwined with grace. All of it. Some measure of it giving glory to a creative, more than able, God.

As do the long exhales. The hard to get through seasons. The ones we get on the other side of and think, “I have no idea how I did that.” Grace. That’s how. God’s sweet enabling when honestly, we deserve much less.

It’s everywhere, God’s grace, and it met Israel face to face the day Moses unexpectedly walked back into their lives, with big brother Aaron by his side, to faithfully speak on his behalf of the suffering that had not escaped God’s sovereign glance. The land flowing with milk and honey. The freedom. And the impending rescue.

The people long in bondage heard it and saw it and accepted it for what it was. Grace cascading over their parched hearts. They believed Aaron. They believed Moses. They took God at his word and “they bowed their heads and worshiped” (v.31).

This the appropriate response to grace, surely filled Moses with a bucket or two of confidence prior to his initial meeting with Pharaoh. For when the moment came Moses and Aaron approached the king with awe-inspiring boldness. Like two men on a mission, they were out with it: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness” (5:2).

And just like that God’s grace poured forth without restraint or apology, before Pharaoh as well. Yes, that’s right, grace. Though it wasn’t recognized as such, it was grace indeed.

You see the LORD had every right to take Pharaoh out then and there. Dismantling him from power. Eternally dismissing him with the lost for mistreating His firstborn son (Ex. 2:22). But God didn’t, not even close. Instead God gave him a chance, an opportunity, to say yes. (Grace.)

To step into the most beautiful of all relationships. The Creator with his creation. But Pharaoh rejected it. Seeing it as nothing more than a ridiculous notion, He responded to Moses and Aaron with the question every living, breathing soul must face at one point or another. “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?”

Who is the LORD? Have you asked it? It’s a question we all must answer. Our response, leading us to either accept the grace before us or reject it. There’s no middle ground. No gray area to land within and still be ok. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). It’s a with or against situation. You’re either covered by the blood of Christ or you’re not.

John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already,” leaving no space for wiggle room. Either you’re a servant of righteousness or a slave to sin (Rom. 6:16). A child of God or a child of the devil (Matt. 13:38). Doing the will of the Father in Heaven or doing the will of the father of lies (John 8:44).

Face to face with God’s grace, you either accept it or you don’t. And here in Exodus we see the stark contrast of those who accept it and those who don’t. Israel worshiped, but Pharaoh scoffed, “I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (v.2).

Grace my friend, it’s there for the taking. Wrapped in God’s mercies renewed with each day. Never diminishing in quality. Never ceasing in quantity. Yet the likes of which requiring a response. An answer to the still pertinent question: “Who is the LORD?”

Is He Jesus? The King of kings, the descendant of David, the bright morning star, the light of the world, the Savior, the Redeemer? The way, the truth, and the life? “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Or is he not? I know my answer. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus Christ, who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

And so I worship the King. The riches of his love too much for me to understand. “Saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

Because grace met me. In the fullness of my sin, it met me. As it did on the banks of the Nile. When Moses and Aaron spoke first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles of the plan. The good news, that God had come to rescue his people. The gospel, if you will.

Received by one, but not the other. Resulting in worship by one, but not the other. Because of their answer to one simple question. “Who is the LORD?”

Thanks be to my LORD and God, Jesus Christ, through whom “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Which is never a warrant to sin, but always and forever a means to worship.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Who is the LORD to you? Does your definition match the one given in the Bible?
How have you experienced God’s grace in your life?

When It’s Time to Get Going and Let Go of the Excuses

I am a very fine excuse maker (I think we all are.) Suggest something I don’t want to do and I’m all “Sorry, wish I could help but I’ve got this thing and I’ve got these kids and they have to nap and my man has to work and whew life is busy isn’t it? Maybe next time.” Then there’s the shortened version, “I just don’t have time” or the classic “Sorry, I don’t know how.” Cousins to the ever so popular, “What if I mess up” and “I just can’t do that.”

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 35
Key Verse: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Sometimes we even get God involved. “That’s just not how God made me” or “He didn’t gift me in that area.”

Now to be fair, sometimes we have totally legitimate excuses. Their is a season for everything and sometimes it just ain’t the season. Other times we need to pray and be brave. Really really brave and let God do something through us we didn’t think we could do. Like write devotionals (cough cough). Believe me, I gave God a lot of excuses and still do from time to time.

But heads up, I’m about to wreck every excuse in our big fat books. Or rather God already did the moment he said to Jacob “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (v. 1)

You’d think God would have totally dismissed him, benched him, canned him, sacked him – whatever you want to call it. It just makes sense. “Jacob you’ve messed up one too many times bud. It’s over. Sorry.” But God didn’t.

After years of offering God halfhearted obedience in Shechem, allowing the ways of the world to penetrate his household (the evidence is in verse 4), passively standing by when his daughter is raped, and being concerned only for himself when his sons commit genocide (of all things) – God pours grace upon grace with a command to “Arise, go up…and make me an altar.”

In other words, it’s time to get back on track Jacob. Though I’ve been fiercely faithful to you and you’ve been less than faithful to me. Though their is murder on your head, though your sons are a disgrace, though your daughter is defiled, and your leadership pathetic. Though you knew what you were supposed to do and didn’t do it. Though I have every reason to be done with  you – I am still going to use you. You are still my man. So let’s get going.

My friend, if God was still willing to use Jacob – there is no doubt in my mind He can use us. We have no excuses. If genocide didn’t disqualify Jacob then I don’t think any of our excuses are going work. How great is the testimony of the sinner drenched in God’s great grace!

So how do we get started? By doing exactly what Jacob and his entire household did – they purified themselves. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

I find it interesting Jacob instinctively instructed his household to “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” because this was not anywhere in God’s instructions to Jacob (see Gen. 35:1). But Jacob knew it was necessary. A holy God can have nothing to do with an unholy people. I also find it interesting they didn’t argue with Jacob. Atleast not that we’re told. They handed over their little gods “and the rings that were in their ears” and “Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem” (35:4).

He took their idolatry and buried it under a tree. No matter how costly – they left it there – for the sake of their relationship with God. Just as we are to dump our sin at the base of another tree, the cross. Bury it and walk away, for the sake of our relationship with the Almighty God – the name God calls himself when he appears to Jacob after he obediently builds the altar at Bethel.

God not only appeared to Jacob but  blessed him. Reminding Jacob of his new name (Israel). Speaking to him (with similar wording) the same promises given to Abraham in Genesis 17.  “A nation and a company of nations shall come from you…” And kings and a land.

The unconditional promises given to Abraham and Isaac were now in the hand of Jacob. It’s certainly not what I would have done to Jacob, but it’s what God does. Everyday it’s what God does – for us. He can still use you friend. Bury your idolatry under the tree and come rest in his faithfulness.

Does it mean all will be smooth sailing? Unfortunately no. Our commitment to Christ is not a guarantee for a trouble free life. There will still be hard times as there was for Jacob. Who grieved over the loss of his mother’s nurse Deborah. (Maybe she joined their group after Rebekah passed away) And then grieved over the loss of his beloved Rachel, who died while giving birth to his twelfth son, Benjamin.

Neither does it mean we’re safe from the consequences of our sins. Jacob’s favoritism towards Rachel’s boys may have already played a part in the genocide of Shechem. But hit a little closer to home when Reuben seduced and slept with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s concubines (v.22). And would soon hurt in ways Jacob never imagined with the loss of Joseph.

No, following Christ doesn’t mean life won’t sting from time to time. But it does mean when we pass through the rough waters, Jesus will be right there with us (Isaiah 43:2). So let’s get goin’. He has called you by name. You are his. It’s time to “Arise, go up…” And get back on track.

Contemplate and Evaluate
What excuses have been keeping you from serving God with your whole heart?
What is God calling you to do today? Is it time to get up and get going?


Why it Had to be Grace

I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about the mustard stain. As usual I’d thrown on yesterday’s jeans conveniently lying on the floor, black belt already threaded, in hopes of reaching Mr. Destructo before he emptied all three bathroom drawers.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 21:8-34
Key Verse: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

Now we were at the first of two grocery stops and there was no goin’ home (not without food). All in all it was your typical Tuesday. One boy hung off the side of the cart while the other begged to get out. Until it happened. A hair pulling, high pitched screaming, we’re-the-loudest-people-in-the-store fight over a stupid styrofoam rocket I let Mr. Three-Year-Old bring inside. Oops.

I wanted to run or hide or at least make a disclaimer. And that’s when I saw them. A perfectly quiet, well behaved, Amish family pretending not to notice the spectacle unfolding in front of them. Now don’t get me wrong. I love the Amish! I may or may not even have a small fascination with them. But at the moment I didn’t feel so giddy. I felt guilty. As if somehow I didn’t measure up.

Fighting the urge to hide in the freezer section and eat ice cream we finished our shopping and headed to the checkout. Unable to resist his demands any longer I let Mr.-Almost-Two-Year-Old out of the cart. Big mistake! A small taste of freedom and the little guy booked it straight out the Aldi door – leaving me no choice but to scream and run. Snatching him just before the parking lot I scurried back inside. Only to see the watching eyes of my perfectly proper new friends right behind me in line. Mustard stain and all I felt covered in shame. Because next to what I saw as “perfection” it was crystal clear, I didn’t measure up.

And you know what…it’s ok. Because no one does. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As hard as we might try – no one measures up. Not to God’s perfect standard. It’s impossible by any works of our own flesh – to be justified before a holy God. Justification is a gift. A work of grace. And has nothing to do with me or you.

We gain the blessings of God – an inheritance for beyond comprehension – merely because of grace. Not because of what we do or don’t do or can do or will do. But by beautiful, undeserved, uncommon grace.

Not by works of our flesh, but by a work of HIS flesh.

This is why Ishmael had to be cast out. He was a product of Abraham’s flesh. The result of human effort, not faith. He could have no part of the inheritance because the promised inheritance was to come by grace through faith alone.

Isaac, on the other hand, didn’t earn it. He merely received it. Through an act of God’s miraculous power. The fulfillment of a promise. Just as we don’t earn it, but merely receive it through an act of God’s miraculous power. The fulfillment of a promise when we’re born again through “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5,7).

Therefore, we “like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Can we just celebrate this for a minute or two or forever? “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

“By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5). Not by effort or hard work or because of ethnicity or lack thereof but because of God’s grace, we are heirs of the world, just like Isaac (Rom. 4:13). With no reason to be ashamed. No reason to hide in the freezer section and eat ice cream. Because in Christ we’re forgiven, declared righteous, and living under a massive umbrella of grace.

Yet how often do we still beat ourselves up? Because I’m not good enough. Because I yelled again when I said I wouldn’t. Lost my patience. Messed up. Ate chocolate. And didn’t get my workout in. How often do we feel defeated? Ashamed? Not enough?

We must learn to accept the grace handed to us! Otherwise we will lack the confidence to be effective ambassadors of the gospel of Christ. How could we expect anyone else to accept the grace of Jesus when we ourselves refuse to live under it?

Conviction is one thing but condemnation is another. For “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). None! Only grace. Yet condemned is how the enemy wants us to feel – unfit for any good use, a failure who can’t do anything right. Don’t let him win! Rise up and remind him you’re under grace.

I wasn’t the only one in Aldi with stains. We’re all stained – every one of us! Yet Christ covers my stains with his righteousness. No I’m not perfect, but He is. Therefore in Christ I do in fact…measure up. Grace, grace, God’s grace…amazing grace indeed.

Contemplate and Evaluate
Do you allow yourself to live under the grace God has gifted you? Or do you tend to live under the assumption you’re not good enough and never will be?
Do you view salvation as something you must earn or merely receive?