The Riches of Your Great Grace

To speak of the riches of God’s great grace is to look into the gospel. If you read this, if you experience this song, then you too enter into the amazing riches of his great grace: not just what he has done, but the wonder that this grace extends to you.

I mean, what he’s done can’t be exhausted by words. God’s everlasting mighty love, poured out on us in the person of Jesus. His life. His sacrifice. His suffering. His conquering of sin and death. His blood that purchased our salvation.

All of these truths are framed by one that this song highlights: first, that we get to even know it; second, that we get to experience it.

We, that’s you and me. We, lost and without hope. We, strangers and far away from the promises of God. We, weak not strong, broken not whole, rebels not humble, ugly and wicked and dead.  Dead because we were dead-set on our own striving to earn heaven, our own effort to obtain what can never be obtained by us.

To sing this song is to enter into the wonder that God went outside the camp. Jesus touched lepers and the blind and the weak and the lost. And in that group were you and me. Plagued, unseeing, debilitated, bewildered, entirely unworthy, even dead without him.

So let the gospel be the song we sing. The good news that the work is finished, the victory accomplished, totally outside of us—and yet including us.

Thus we call ourselves children, his holy church, victorious, righteous, with God as our portion and our strength.

May we never forget our humble state in ourselves, or the great grace by which we, together, stand. As we praise the one who freely gave, that we might live in him.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

We Will Stand

Everybody lives out of some sort of hope. Hope for a better life. Hope that our lives will have meaning. Hope that kids will have success. Hope that we will have enough for when we are old. Hope for friends or family or recognition.

Too often what we’ve been trained to do is to pray to God to help us attain what our hope is. We see Jesus as a powerful helper. With his help, we reason, we can get to where we are supposed to be, we can attain what our desires are.

This song stands against seeing Jesus as a helper to attain your hopes. It proclaims that Jesus is our hope. He is our rock, our foundation, our solid ground. Our life is out of the hope we have in Christ, not toward a hope that Christ helps us attain.

Our hope in Christ is life-changing because it is based on his finished work, in all he’s done. Our hope is that we are significant, we have value and meaning and purpose in his finished work, not in ours. So our other hopes, over time and dwelling in the gospel, become lesser, dimmer, not identity crushing.

We stand, but we stand on Christ. That standing isn’t to a greater work or a more important purpose, it is rather a glorious affirmation that our lives are already on the rock, already wholly blessed, already being used by God.

Jesus isn’t the wood by which we build the boat; he is the boat. He isn’t the sand by which we make sandbags to hold out the flood, he is the rock that keeps the flood away. He isn’t the coach pushing us to improve, he’s the athlete who has won it all and gives us the prize. He is our hope when all other hopes are gone, the hope that is founded on his unshakable faithful love.

If you have been broken, if you aren’t sure you can stand, this song is for you. We will stand. Because of the Promised One who loves us and never fails.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has called us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. “ (1 Peter 1:3).

Supernatural

God who made the world and all in it exists as a trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. The Bible says that the entire universe is upheld, moment by moment, by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). This God is over all beings, visible and invisible, and there is more going on that is not seen than that which is seen.

The Son became human, Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God. What Jesus did on the cross echoes into all the universe, defeating spiritual powers and principalities we have never seen. These are our enemies, these invisible spiritual powers. I’m not pulling that out of thin air; the Bible says that in Ephesians 6:12.

I can barely understand this, because I am such a product of Western culture. I think tomorrow will be just like today, and that there are rational, understandable answers to everything. Our whole scientific worldview is based on the world following certain observable laws. I read 2 Peter 3:5-7, but I am still a product of my rationalistic worldview.

Did you know that in 2037, high tide in Bellingham will be at 9:32 am? I looked that up, I didn’t calculate it myself. But the calculations are based on science. Observations about how the earth rotates around the sun, and the moon around the earth.

Electricity, the combustion engine, telephones, open heart surgery, you name it. All based on observational cause-and-effect scientific rationalism. We lean on this every single day. Every time we turn on a light switch. Every time we drive a car.

The reality of the supernatural challenges our suppositions, makes it clear that we are choosing to believe against the world. Against relying on what we can see and touch. That there is a God who is not able to be put into a box. That he does not bow to universal laws. He is above, beyond, and enters into our world in a way that is supernatural.

Our hope is in his supernatural salvation, in the battle he wins with powers way beyond our knowledge, beyond even our ability to see. Only Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven; we trust what he says, not what we see (Luke 10:18).

The supernatural humbles us. Because we are not in control. Because we are believing in things we can’t see, let alone influence. Because we are totally dependent, from our very first breath until our last, on the kindness of God.

We are nothing. He is everything. What a wonder that we have value in his eyes, that we experience both his power and his love in the cross of Jesus. Come, put your hope in this supernatural God.

All This For Us

The cross stands alone.

There were other points, at other times, where the redemptive plan of God peeked through our bondage to sin. God’s admonition to Cain. His preservation of Noah. His covenant with Abraham. Deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea. The Law and tabernacle. The giving of Canaan and removal of the Nephilim, when God fought for Israel. Cycles of salvation in Judges. David. Preservation of a remnant of Israel. The rebuilding of the temple.

But the cross stands alone.

On it was Jesus. God’s unique son. Fully God, fully man. Sinless. Perfect. And on that cross, a sacrifice for you and for me. He took the curse, the full weight of sin, upon his sinless shoulders, and atoned.

He cried out, from Psalm 22, “it is finished.” His work was the answer, the final work, the finished work. His sacrifice paid it all. In his death—and the life that preceded it, and the resurrection that followed—is our redemption and rescue and salvation.

His cross does not simply proclaim rescue from sin and death. It proclaims life. It provides our way back, our restoration, our sanctification as well as our justification, because in the work of Jesus is our entire hope.

Our identification with this Savior, on this cross, is our life. We have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by trusting this Son of God, Jesus, who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

In power, in finality, and most amazingly in love, the cross stands alone.

Can’t wait to meet our Savior face to face, who for love bore it all so we might live.

Creator of All

Does God have the power to stop the Sun? And yet maintain gravity and atmosphere? To hold everything together while actually ceasing the rotation of the Earth? And then start it up again? Without everyone dying from the whiplash?

Sounds like a crazy concept, but that’s the cleanest read of Joshua 10:13-14. The sun stood still. God did it. This was an act of almost incomprehensible power.

Overestimating the power of God is impossible. Go ahead, try. “More powerful than a million suns.” As soon as that is written, it can be exceeded. How about a billion suns? More powerful. A trillion? More powerful.

His power isn’t just seen in miraculous events. God made everything. Simply by speaking it into existence. His power is simply limitless, right?

I can (barely) grasp the idea of limitless power. Inasmuch as I do, I am driven to bow my knee, to submit to the reality of overwhelming force. He is God. I am not. Nobody else is. Only him.

God’s power is amazing, but his omnipotence is not what primarily amazes me. What humbles me is in the midst of his power, he cares. He doesn’t just make the stars, he knows them by name. He doesn’t just make big things, he makes grains of sand.

In the account in Joshua, the sun stands still. But what is equally amazing as that miracle is why. The day lengthened on account of Joshua asking for it, and God listening.

God cares for his people. His most amazing attribute, in my eyes, is hesed, a transliteration for a Hebrew word meaning steadfast love. He loves. This all-powerful God, he makes the lame walk and the blind see. He looks at fallen broken people, and gives healing and hope. He does this himself, in his son Jesus.

If God has set his love on you, then you have nothing to fear. He goes before his people, he cares for his own, he protects them and keeps them (and he is really able to!).

The only issue of life is—has he set his love on you? And the answer is simple: yes, he has. If you will trust him. Anyone who trusts in Jesus, not in themselves, will be saved (John 3:16).

So see his power. Be amazed. And receive his mercy, thus to sing in glorious wonder. Because the all-powerful worker of miracles died to set you free.

Almighty Love

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We love stories of noble sacrifice. A mother running into a burning building to save her infant child. A few brave soldiers staging a futile rearguard action to buy time for escaping women and children. A secret service agent leaping in front of the President to save a life. These actions exhort us to greater deeds of noble sacrifice ourselves.

That’s not what we’re singing of today. Sacrifical deeds for the innocent, the important, the worthy, the valuable. We’re way beyond that kind of charitable activity. We’re into the unknown, the incredible, the indescribable, the incomprehensible.

We’re in the realm of a story like this: a murderer who tortures and abuses, caught and bound to a chair, about to receive the lethal injection that will finally bring even a modicum of justice—and tremulous voice carries through: “Wait! Kill me instead!” And the command is from the lips of one of his bleeding, barely living victims. Not noble, in our eyes. Pathological, maybe. Pathetic.

Pathetic because there is nothing noble about the murderer. No smidge of repentant humility. No remorse. No turning over a new leaf. No hope that the criminal will become a better member of society through his reformed behavior. If you killed the victim and let the murderer free, he goes and murders some more. This just seems wrong.

Jesus died. And Paul still zealously rejected Christianity. Paul even progressed into persecution—murder?—of those who believed in this Messiah.

Until our eyes, like Paul’s, are opened to the incredible depth of how sinful we are, and how Christ died for us while we were sinners, our Christianity will be of a noble, understandable, wonderful sacrifice.

When our eyes are opened, we see it is more. We cry out, with this song, “How can it be, you first loved me?” How can it be that Jesus died for those who continued to sin, that love reached out for the unlovely? Rejected, despised by the very ones who needed him most.

When you come to your end, when your bridges are burned, when you sit in the wreckage of what your very best efforts result in, you are ready for this love. Almighty Love. The upside-down, incomprehensible, radical love of God in Jesus Christ. May the gospel continue to breathe life into your every breath in the wonder of our indescribable Savior.

O What A Fountain

“Praise for the Fountain Opened” was penned by William Cowper in the 1700’s. Struggling with seasons of depression and melancholy, he found his hope in the deep and wondrous cleansing blood of Christ.

This song draws from Cowper’s ode to the marvelous sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. This is the center of our hope and our faith. The Lamb of God has made his sacrifice, his blood is all the sinner needs, the weight of Jesus’ suffering washes away every guilty stain.

Like the dying thief, our own past, our own insignificance, our own failures all press upon us. We need to look always upon our savior, to see that we are the ransomed church, the children of God, simply by what he has done.

So redeeming love is our theme, the song that we sing. And we have to keep singing, because we forget that this is our only hope. As the cares of the world keep assailing, as injustice and suffering abound and simple life seems to hold no intrinsic joy, we remember again by faith that Jesus has washed away every blemish, every sin, and covered us in his righteousness. And for a moment, just a moment, we again splash in the cleansing flood, we are free in the clean waters that he has bathed us in.

Writing this song and thinking these thoughts did not cure Cowper from his bouts of depression. But these truths assure him and us that depression will end, that hope is alive, that we are cleansed forever in the fountain of the ransoming blood of Jesus Christ. Healing comes. Sin will be done. Life is ahead. Until we die, we sing of the redeeming love of our saving God.

You Go Before Us

Two little kids peer ahead. At the end of the hall is a huge pile of balloons, bobbing a little, inviting. With joy they run down to be engulfed in the multicolored cloud.

Maybe you can picture your kids doing something like that. Or, in a lighter moment, even you yourself.

But we don’t usually think of our whole lives that way. Our lives are filled with ups and downs, with striving and working through uncertain days and nights.

We have responsibilities and duties and obligations. And they are real ones, to spouses and children and parents and jobs and more. So we don’t usually think we are kids running down the hall toward a pile of balloons. We think the path we’re on is a conditional one, conditional on our improvement and strength. We have to discover what God wants us to do, and do it.

When I’m tempted to think this way, it is fantastic to consider Joshua. To picture the people of Israel massed on the plains of Moab, waiting to enter the land of promise. The place of rest. It doesn’t seem like it will be an easy run. There are obstacles and battles and even a huge river in front of them.

It is easy to hear “be strong, be courageous!” or “be careful to obey all the law that Moses commanded you,” and think that is the task for us. That’s certainly not running toward a pile of balloons. That’s a tall order, especially since I’m not particularly strong, courageous, or accomplished in the Law.

Until we realize… that those commands aren’t actually directed to us. They’re directed to the one who goes before us. Be strong and courageous, God says, to Joshua. Joshua, strong and courageous, will lead the people into the land of rest. Joshua, strong and courageous, will obey all that God speaks to him.

What a wonderful picture of our Joshua. When our path led only to condemnation and destruction, Jesus was strong and courageous. Jesus, our Joshua, obeyed the Father perfectly. He took on the world, the flesh, and the devil… and, through suffering and death, won. His blood covers our sin. His righteousness is ours forever. Simply by trusting in him.

By trusting, we are in that hallway, with much more wondrous things than a pile of balloons at the end.

And even when the hall seems dark, we know that this light momentary affliction is followed by an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). This future is because of the wonder of a God that goes before us, a forerunner who has already made the path straight, a Savior who loves us forever. It is a joy to follow him.

The Anchor

Examples of what God has done for other people are really helpful for our own journey. Examples help convince us that God does what he says. Abraham really did receive what God promised, because God is steadfast and trustworthy and doesn’t lie.

I mean, look what God did for the people of Israel! He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt by great signs and wonders. He fed them and kept them in the wilderness. He led them by pillars of cloud and fire. He went before them, fighting for them, giving them the land he’d promised to Abraham. Clearly he does what he promises.

But those examples aren’t really an anchor for me. Not because I doubt God’s promises. But I doubt that those promises apply to me.

I have not kept the Law. I am not a physical descendant of Abraham. I am troubled and struggle all the way through life. I am unworthy of the promise of God and don’t keep up my end of any bargain he may have made.

So when I see that there is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” in Hebrews 6:19, I long to actually know what this anchor is that holds fast my soul? What is this strong connection that I have, that I can lean on and be assured of and rest in?

The writer of Hebrews wants us to look hard at a particular promise, from Psalm 110:4: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

See, just like the promise to Abraham—God promises, and swears. There is a priest, who represents a people before God. And he is above and before the Levitical law. He is David’s descendant, and David’s Lord. His name is Jesus. And thus in the Old Testament  there is a promise that will tie directly to you and to me.

Faith is faith that this promise is true. Not the Abrahamic promise, that one’s obviously true. Not the promise to David, or the promise to Noah, or other promises in the Bible. Nope. Focus on this one, the promise God made in Psalm 110 and swore to never change. The forever-priesthood of Melchizedek.

There is a priest. One who represents us before God. He does not plead with God for mercy on our rotten lives. Rather he calls for justice, in forgiving our sins because he has paid for them all. He is beautiful and perfect and shining, and his perfection is ours before God, because we are found in him. This is the truth: he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. That’s the presentation of this priest in Hebrews 7:25.

If you trust Jesus, he saves to the uttermost. That’s not a statement of try harder, do more, excel, improve, or find any hope in yourself.

Our anchor is the sworn promise of God that Jesus is our priest, above the law, once and for all saving us by his blood alone. This is our assurance. He is ours. Simply by drawing near, by placing our trust in his priesthood.

Focus on the right promise. Be assured. Your anchor will hold. No matter how troubled life gets, no matter how ingloriously you  fail, your anchor will hold. Your deliverer delivers. Your savior saves. Rest in the arms of the one who really has done it all for you.

“What though the accuser roar
Of ills that I have done!
I know them well and thousands more:
Jehovah findeth none.”

Great Is Your Faithfulness

Sometimes it takes the darkest moments to understand where light is found.

Difficulty can sound so mundane. In 586 B.C. Babylon came and conquered Judah, destroying Jerusalem, tearing down the walls, the city, the temple.

That doesn’t sound so bad, really, until you read the poems of the lament. They bring to life the real tragedy, the hopeless destruction.

“In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity.” (Lamentations 2:21)

“My flesh and my skin waste away… my bones break…  I’m enveloped with bitterness and tribulation and darkness and death” (Lamenations 3:4-6). These are cries of suffering and pain and hardship.

The message of Lamentations is made all the more tragic because it is deserved. Random evil didn’t do these things; they are brought on by sin and evil within as well as without.

Yet within the darkest hour there is a glimmer of light that will not go out. We rip it out of context; it is a verse you may know well.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

In the dead of night. In the moment when there are not flowers and gentle breezes. In the time of overwhelming tragedy, even self-inflicted. At that moment, there remains a light.

The steadfast love of God.

Not our faithfulness. His.

“Great is your faithfulness” isn’t a statement of God meeting us halfway, or of his having enough to pay us for all we do for him.

“Great is your faithfulness” is a statement of hope when all hope is gone. A statement of personal breakdown, of finally finding where light is.

The steadfast love of the Lord means he did not abandon his people. He sent a savior. His faithful son. Who in the midst of our own sin and sorrow and pain blazes forth with the message of care and love and provision.

His faithfulness provides all that we need. His suffering sacrifice cleanses us. His righteousness is given to us. We have only one place to put our trust—in Jesus.

So when the day breaks and there seems to be light everywhere, remember the real light. The one that is steady when all else fails. The one who brings grace and truth. Our anchor, our savior, Jesus.

Don’t hope in yourself. Not even on your best day. Trust the faithfulness of our God in Christ.

“’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:24).