The Ultimate Joy » A Journey in Intimacy with God

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Finding Freedom

Running girl, legs - for post

I grew up in a time and place where parents felt free to let their children play in the neighborhood unsupervised. We’d ride our bikes for miles, play ball in open fields, and explore the hollows of the woods nearby. These are some of my best childhood memories. In recent years, I’ve come to experience a similar freedom in my walk with Christ. I’ve come to realize that instead of a narrow and confining life, it’s a free and wide-open space kind of life.

Yet I fear that many people think of Christianity as a religion governed by an unobtainable and fun-robbing set of dos and don’ts. The Apostle Paul wrote it this way:

Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!   (2 Corinthians 6:11-13 MSG)

It’s worth noting that Paul wrote those words while in prison.

Does the Bible set forth specific commands? Are there behaviors and thoughts we are commanded against, as well as ones we are called to? Absolutely! Did God give them to control us or keep good things from us? Absolutely not! To a group that professed faith in Him Jesus said:

“If you hold to My teaching, you really are My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). 

Sin, Jesus said, makes us slaves – confining us in narrow and small spaces (John 8:34).

God freed His people from slavery in Egypt to take them to a land of great freedom:

“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers…So I have come down to rescue them…to bring them out of slavery and into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey’” (Exodus 3:7-8).

He has a promised land for us. Like that of the Israelites, this land is filled with beauty, abundance, and rich provision. Like the Israelites, we occupy this land through faithfully adhering to the commands and ways of God. King David expressed the freedom he found in this way:

“I run in the way of your commands, for You have set my heart free.”

The truth is: God’s ways work. He made the universe and all of us who live in it. It’s logical that He’d also know what is best for us. We are blessed when we hold to His teachings and obey His commands. As a blessed people, we glorify God. Jesus lived free! He lived only to please His Father. He loved wildly and forgave freely. He walked uprightly (in conformity to the will and ways of God).

Christianity would be more appealing to those who don’t believe in Jesus if they saw God’s people living free. Whenever you start feeling hemmed in by your thoughts and emotions, when life feels small and petty, there’s one thing you should do first.  It’s Way #4 of 52 Ways to Glorify God:

Run in the way of God’s commands.

Sprint! Run as fast as you can back to the commands of God by running to the Word of God. Know God’s truth. Let His truth set you free.

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Psalm 119-32

 

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Special Challenge

Jesus carrying a cross

At the end of Way #3 of 52 Ways to Glorify God (http://theultimatejoy.com/the-grace-of-god/) I issued a Special Challenge:  

In preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I’m going to meditate on Isaiah 53:4-6 every day through Easter Sunday. I’d love for you to join me. I believe God will reveal Himself, Jesus, His love and His grace as we simply let Him speak through this amazing passage. As we see His heart, He changes our hearts.

I’ve actually been reading verses 3-6, and so far, I’m spending most of my time in verse 3. I was amazed this morning at the specific prayers God brought out of this meditation time.  If you’ve not done so, please consider taking on this special challenge. If you are taking it on, let me know. I’d love to get a group of us together — either through email or coffee — to share what God has shown and done in us through it. To God be the glory!!!

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The Grace of God

Grace w lights blog pic

I was preparing for a mission trip to Nairobi and Nakuru, Kenya when I was asked to teach from a book called Embracing Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs. No problem — or so I thought. I began reading the book, but with each page I felt as if I hit an impenetrable wall. It wasn’t a complicated book. In fact, it’s a delightful book. I just couldn’t get a firm grasp of what she was saying.

My frustration continued for days before I started to wonder: Do I really understand the grace of God? I could define it; I could explain it. But did I really “get it”? Saved by grace, I needed God to teach me how to live by grace.

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. A perfectly holy God laid our sin on His sinless Son. I wonder if I will ever grasp the magnitude of what Jesus did for us:

“He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed and made whole. We too, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”      Isaiah 53:4-6 

Honestly, most days that passage doesn’t undo me as it should. We no longer have to reap the eternal consequences of our sin. Jesus, the One who never sinned, literally became sin for us so we might receive the righteousness, the holiness of God. That’s unmerited favor. That’s grace!

Most of us understand being saved by grace, but living by grace is often less understood and more of a challenge. I thought, though mostly subconsciously, I had to try very, very hard to live a godly life. I strove for it. I was exhausted from it. Yet all along the invitation was to live by grace. The first century church had this same struggle (I’ve added in personal commentary.):

“Did you receive the Spirit (receive salvation) by observing the law (striving to uphold its holy standards) or by believing what you heard (Jesus crucified and resurrected, paying the debt for and breaking the power of our sin)?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal (living a godly life) by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

We are saved by grace through faith. We must now live by grace, through faith. In faith, we believe who God says we are: new creations – people who’ve received a new nature. The penalty for our sin was paid AND the power of sin over us was broken. Through Christ, we can be delivered daily from the sin patterns ingrained in us. As this happens, we begin looking more like Jesus. That brings great glory to God.

It’s such a counterintuitive way to live. Little to nothing in life comes unearned or unmerited. But grace does!

“By grace you have been saved, through faithand this is not of yourselves, it is a gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

God’s riches – the very life of Christ in us supplying everything we need to live a godly life – came to us at the greatest price, Christ’s very life. We may now live THROUGH Him. It’s the only way we can live victoriously for Him. For this very reason the apostle Paul said: “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1).

This is our third of 52 Ways to order your life for the glory God:

#3  Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.

Don’t try to live this Christian life in your own strength. You can’t. You were never meant to. Christ in you is the hope of the glory of God shining through you (Colossians 1:17).

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Special Challenge:  

In preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I’m going to meditate on Isaiah 53:4-6 every day through Easter Sunday. I’d love for you to join me. I believe God will reveal Himself, Jesus, His love and His grace as we simply let Him speak through this amazing passage. As we see His heart, He changes our hearts.

Isaiah 53-5 - 2

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