Acorns From Oakes

Seeing With Our Father's Eyes

“UNDESERVED BLESSINGS?”

Sometimes God’s bounty towards us is described as “undeserved blessings.”  One might wonder if implied in this terminology is the idea that some of the blessings flooding my way are deserved by me. You see, I’m capable of being easy on myself. But when you really think about it, “Are there any blessings in my life that I do deserve?”  And yet, I sometimes slip into an entitlement mentality. I know on a certain level that God’s forgiveness of me is undeserved by me…but then again I think, without saying it, that God must be pleased by the magnificent way I repent. My repentance is more noble…more complete…more satisfying to God than that of others. It’s all so subtle, isn’t it? I am even capable of priding myself on my repentance. But what is repentance? It’s a God-directed, God-enabled change of my heart about my sin through the wonderful story of love…our Savior’s sacrifice of Himself for us. The very definition of repentance eliminates all claims that there is anything in us that in any way deserves what Jesus did and what God freely offers us through Him.

Repeatedly, God warned His people, Israel, not to be lifted up with pride over His choice of them or over His blessings to them. Listen to His reminder to them in Deuteronomy 7:7-8a…“The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery. Later God speaks to them about their going into the promised land with all of its richness and driving out their enemies before them. He instructs them not to reason within themselves that it was because of their “righteousness” that they were getting this new home. No! It was because of the sins of the land’s previous occupants that this came about. He concludes by telling them,  “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:6). But though they were so undeserving, Great God still set His love upon them…still delivered them…still intended to bring them home.

What about us? Do we wish to compare ourselves favorably with Israel? Wouldn’t it be better by far to get away from that kind of thinking? Aren’t you glad He doesn’t treat us as we deserve? Listen, every good thought…every act of kindness…every unselfish deed…every noble sacrifice…every comforting, encouraging word…every strong promise…every loving relationship…every good thing we look forward to with joy…every Word from Him…every protection…every beautiful song…every precious memory…every chance to say or hear, “I love you”…it’s all of grace…it’s all of Him…it’s all so wonderful. Maybe that’s something for which to offer your gratitude to God this Thanksgiving season and beyond.

“Dear Father, Thank You for the reminder. Thank You for setting Your love on us and for delivering us because You are Who You are. And thank You, Father God for every good, perfect, and undeserved gift!”

A Blessed Thanksgiving To You And Yours!

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Should We Just Quit?

Can you make a mental list of Peter’s failures regarding his Lord? I’m sure we can all remember three times one very dark night. His heart couldn’t always cash the checks his mouth wrote. BUT, to his lasting credit, he wanted to be all in for Jesus. And he finished strong in faith. Listen, we all fail. Maybe you are like me…sometimes, it feels like I’m a lot better at failing than succeeding. Should we just quit? If we do, that would be the worst and most final of all failures.  Once Peter asked Jesus to leave him. He didn’t think Jesus should be in the presence of a sinner like him. But Jesus wouldn’t do that. Praise His Name! If we allow possible failure to cause us not to try something new for Jesus, well, that might indicate we are more concerned with how we appear to others than we should be. Some endeavors are worth failing for, aren’t they? If we always shrink back for fear of failing, we limit ourselves in the realm of growth. Let us rather fail in service to Christ than succeed in anything without Him! Our presence in the Sunday assemblies doesn’t mean we have it all together. It means we are still aiming to please Jesus. Though we fail and we fall, we will get back up by His grace and never…ever…not ever…quit!

One Of Us

At the crossroads of humanity, at just the right time following four centuries of silence on God’s part, He sent not simply further word but “the Word” of God. In Jesus of Nazareth, God became a man. To put it another way, Jesus Christ was God being fully human. This event is referred to as the “incarnation” (a word meaning “in the flesh”). God stepped into history, or rather He crawled into history as a human baby. There is deep mystery involved in this event which is beyond us. But there are very plain and powerful lessons which not only inform us but gladden our hearts and  give us rich encouragement and good hope for our own journey in life.

Our God came to earth and lived life on human terms. He was fearfully and    wonderfully knit together inside His mother, Mary (that’s right, He had a mother). He developed through embryonic stages, was born just like any other baby (excepting that He was virgin-born), and grew through infancy, toddler– and child-hood, teenage and young adulthood. He went through nearly all the normal experiences that go along with all those stages of development. Have you thought of the wonder of Mary nursing the infant God? Or of God learning to walk, falling and crying and getting back up to try it all over again? Is it not amazing to think of God as a child playing with friends, doing chores and learning the Bible that He Himself wrote?!! I say He knew nearly all the normal human experiences except that He never married, and He never sinned. He experienced the full array of temptation just like the rest of us humans. In fact, He experienced the power of temptation more fully than the rest of us do. That’s because somewhere along the line, every single one of us caved in to one temptation or another. And that “caving in” opened the flood gates of sin in our lives, didn’t it? But Jesus never caved in. He successfully resisted all kinds of temptations in every condition and every moment of His life on earth. These two facts alone…the fact of His temptation and the fact of His success against all temptation…mean that He is uniquely capable of blessing us. He understands through His experience what we face and how we feel as far as temptation to evil is concerned. And being untainted by sin, He is able to do for us what no one of us can do for the other…save us from and help us overcome sin. He also showed us how to do kingdom-living. The life that follows Christ is not just about heaven, it is about serving right here and now. That’s exactly what Jesus, Who was God being a man, did! In the act of Jesus becoming one of us, God was telling the world, all of us, a number of truly wonderful things: 1) that He was unwilling to give up on us; 2) that He was willing to give up heaven’s greatest treasure for us; 3) that He wants us with Him; 4) that true life is not about self, but about service and sacrifice; 5) that learning Who our Father really is as we see Him in Jesus is life’s greatest quest; 6) that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and that no one comes to God except through Him; 7) that we do not have to live any longer in darkness and fear; 8) that we are not in this alone; 9) that no matter what our circumstances in this life, we have “joy  unspeakable and full of glory” in God. And these are only a few of the things God speaks to us through the Word Who became one of us. Today, as we think back to the time when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we, too,   behold His glory. John saw His glory with his own eyes. We see His glory by faith in what John wrote…but also, surely, in our own experience of the life, light and love the Word of God brought us when He became one of us! Glory to His Name!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT A LORD!

The Lord Jesus Christ was and is awesome! Both His way and His words were often a challenge to the status quo of His day. People were constantly amazed by Him. They couldn’t pigeon-hole Him. About as soon as they thought they had Him figured out, He would do or say something that caused them to see there was something about Him that was unique. And that difference…that unknown quantity in Him…sometimes inspired them and sometimes troubled them.  I wonder…does He still have that effect on us? His manner of teaching separated Him from their scribes and Pharisees.  He spoke with authority. They wondered where His wisdom came from since He hadn’t been to any rabbinical schools. They mistakenly thought He was soft on sin because He went to the places where sinners were in order to help them. They were shocked at the way He forgave sins. They were afraid at the way He could stop a storm or cast out demons with only a word. On and on go the illustrations. On one occasion the religious leaders of Jesus’ time sent guards to arrest Him. But those leaders made a mistake that thwarted their plan. They forgot that the officers they sent had ears with which to hear. They went where Jesus was teaching in order to take Him prisoner. But as they waited for their opportunity to seize Him they couldn’t help but hear what He was saying. Something unanticipated began to happen in their hearts. They heard His gracious words and found that faith was growing inside them. They no longer wanted to arrest Him. They returned to the religious leaders without Him. The leaders wanted to know why they had not taken Christ captive. Their response? “No one ever spoke like this man does…!” Instead of them taking Jesus captive, Jesus took them captive by His love and grace and truth. We ought to listen to Him for ourselves. We might find the same kind of change taking place in our hearts that those guards found. What a wonderful Lord Whose words save us, Whose wisdom blesses us, Whose forgiveness gives us hope, Whose power can calm our souls and bring us home with Him. The wonder He is never fades! But don’t take my word for it, listen to Him yourself. You might begin with reading the Gospel of Mark.

PILGRIMS

I am more convinced now than I was years ago that the life God’s folks are living now is not really about arriving but about traveling. Do you agree? Sometimes it is difficult to keep that truth in mind. But it seems to me the more that focus is kept, the more it helps with life’s ever-changing circumstances. God’s people who have preceded us confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They were looking for a better and true home (see Hebrews 11:13ff). And their quest didn’t make them less here on earth, it made them more. Their hopes were not tied ultimately to this life or this world. Their hope was kept safe in heaven for them. So they were kept safe by that same hope. Granted that one’s definition of safe needs scriptural adjustment. When we consider the Biblical record of God’s followers, they did not appear to others to be in a safe condition. They often appeared to be very vulnerable and in great danger. But believers accept (don’t they?), that real safety means they are kept in saving relationship with their God. And whether they have it good or bad in this life, ultimately, they are safe. Whenever things aren’t going the way we had hoped, may we remember that it’s still alright. God will make all the needed corrections one of these days. And His people are safe with Him whether in trouble or out of it, whether with plenty or not enough, and whether in life or in death. So let’s give it a good shot at living here so as to honor Him by blessing those around us in His Name. It’s not always easy. But it is simple. And it is right. Don’t you think?

 

The Grace Of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Apostle Paul wrote this, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). This truth may lead us to think of other experiences our Lord endured that we might be blessed.

He became homeless that we might have a home.

He became a Son that we might become sons and daughters of God.

He was tempted just like us, that we might have a Friend Who

knows how it feels and can help.

He became a servant that we might be free.

He knew hunger that we might be filled.

He was the object of hate that we might come to know how much we are loved.

He was rejected that we might be accepted.

He was lonely that we might not have to be.

He was misunderstood that we might see how fully we are known.

He became Bread broken to feed our gnawing hunger.

He was the Water of Life poured out to quench forever our desperate thirst.

He was the Flame, burning but not consumed, to light our darkness.

He wept that our tears might be dried.

He was regarded as a criminal that we might be declared innocent.

He was plotted against that we might be provided for.

He was betrayed that we might be protected.

He was mocked, beaten, spat upon and crowned with thorns that we might see the

true nature and cost of sin.

He died that we might live!

He lives that we might never die!

Paul’s assertion was that we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…but do we? Is our grasp of His grace growing stronger? Consider the grace of our Lord Jesus. It is our hope…our purpose…and our motivation for life. Sweet truth. Amazing grace!

The Greatest Fact

 

The circumstances and experiences we face in our lives here and now have a story to tell. No doubt about that! The story may be joy-filled or pain-wracked or both at different junctures. Sometimes it seems the only constant in life is change. We are up one day and down the next. If we are paying attention, we come to realize that the things we often count on for our security and fulfillment are not dependable. Ultimately, we cannot count on health, talent, finances, friends, popularity, governments, intellect or “luck.” We have only to look around us and see that life is not fair. And many of the hard questions with which life may front us, are unanswerable. But though all of this is true, there’s another Story that, to people of Bible faith, speaks far better truths…hope-inspiring truths…life-sustaining truths…peace-giving truths.

To His disciples, our Lord, on the eve of His betrayal (John 16), spoke some very stern truths about what was ahead for them…truths having to do with hardship, suffering and, even, death. He explained that He hadn’t previously told them in detail about such things because He was with them. But now He was going away. And He wanted them to be prepared. In this world, He told them, you will have trouble. And Jesus did not minimize this trouble. It may  be very serious, even brutal and unrelenting. And it doesn’t proceed along predictable lines. It may come quickly, repeatedly and without any warning. The pressure may force a demand to know “Why?” from our lips that will go maddeningly unheeded. But Jesus told His beloved disciples (and us) that in Him they would have peace (John 16:33). The thing they would most need at such times was not an answer, but a PresenceHis Presence. In and through Jesus they could “take heart” because He overcame in this life. And His victory was their victory!

But this they could only know and claim by faith. Pain is a fact, but there is a greater Fact! Disappointment and failure are facts, but Jesus is greater than those enemies! Loneliness, heartache, temptation, sin and death are facts. They are powerful facts! They cut and wound us. They make us cry and bleed! They cause us to question. But our Lord met all these enemies and buried them by means of the old rugged cross and the empty tomb. Feed your faith on this greatest of all truths. And when your earthly senses are immersed in the fierce trials of life…when your emotions are overwhelmed…when your strength is waning…when everything you can see tends toward despair…and you are not sure that you are capable of even one more step…then, lift up your eyes (the eyes of faith) and understand that your redemption is ahead. Even if it seems so far away, remember that it is certain. God’s word doesn’t fail. He will never forsake one of His own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ’s Undertakers

Would they have thought how often His spike-pierced feet had traveled the dusty streets of Palestine, not on holiday, not for personal reasons or for a political agenda, but only to seek and save helplessly lost people? Would they have gazed on those wounded hands and thought how they had worked so hard in the carpenter’s shop to provide for His own or how, in these last few years, they had only moved in selfless love to lift some traveler’s load, to touch one of society’s outcasts or to take up some child for the blessing? Would they have looked upon His face, now barely recognizable, and thought how often He had smiled upon other sufferers and how that smile took all their sorrows away? Would they have looked upon His chest and back, mangled by the fierce scourging and wondered how it could have come to this for the strong and wise young Rabbi? Would they have looked at the spear wound and thought how completely vulnerable He had made Himself, never more so than here, completely exposed at Golgotha? Would they have been amazed at His pale appearance due to the incredible blood loss as the thirsty ground drank every drop that fell to it? Would they have remembered how the Old Law taught that the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11)? Would their minds have reeled as they tried to understand it? As they carried His body to Joseph’s tomb were their senses shocked at the sheer injustice of this death? Were they embarrassed and so shamed by what their “spiritual” leaders, in league with Rome, had brought about? Did they regret being part of a society which could choose Barabbas and condemn Jesus? As they rolled the large stone into its groove and it rocked into place, did they feel that something within them had also died and was buried with Him in there? Did they…could they…imagine that life would ever be the same again? How does one adjust after the Event at Calvary? What could ever make things right? This unholy execution caused Joseph and Nicodemus to expose themselves as they undertook the last service they could offer Christ in caring for His earthly remains. As the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth gave birth and nourishment to goodness in the souls of so many, so the death of Jesus did for these two men on that Friday evening long ago. All their questions hung about them awaiting, yes, demanding answers. And though it may have seemed like an eternity to them, those answers would come heralded by a powerful earthquake only hours away.

 

Getting To Know God

 

Think of a very good and close friendship you have. Ask yourself how it came to be. It’s not as simple as just having come to know the person is it? It’s not just that you spent time with them. It’s not only that you had some things in common, for we have lots in common with lots of people that we aren’t particularly close to, don’t we? So, it’s not just knowing, spending time with or having things in common with a person. Those elements have their place but there’s something more. Isn’t it true that we somehow see that which we admire in a person and it draws us to them? The way they, in turn, accept us and allow us into their lives blesses us. This is a gift of trust. We spend more time together as we are able. That leads to many more experiences with them in many more circumstances…good ones and tough ones. We have times together alone and times together with others. We pick up on their values and aims. We share some of those in common…maybe many of those in common. We watch how they handle trouble. We feel comfortable and accepted when we are with them. We get to work together, and we see how they carry their share. We see the way they take responsibility. The relationship grows as we interact in daily life.

Now let me ask, how is your relationship with your Father God? Maybe you think it could definitely be better. Maybe you even want it to be better. But just as a friendship doesn’t happen magically, a growing relationship with God doesn’t either. The only way we get to know one another better is through experiencing the phases of life together.

I am not speaking simply of reading the Bible, though that is foundational. We wouldn’t know anything about our God had He not told us in His Book. Of course we cannot see or touch God directly. So that sort of gives us pause, don’t you think? How can we have a relationship with an invisible Someone? But the Apostle Peter explains that we definitely can have such a relationship. Have a read of 1 Peter 1:8-9. Without having seen Jesus in the flesh ourselves, we can consider the sheer volume of evidence we have been given concerning Him. We then are able to love Him, believe in Him, rejoice in Him and continue receiving salvation from Him! We are in relationship with Him. The Proverb writer tells us to “acknowledge Him” (3:6). What does that mean? Well, what does it mean to acknowledge a friend? We speak with them. We share good and tough news. When we are happy we can’t wait to bring them in on it, can we? We honor them. We make plans with them in mind. We make decisions based on our friendship. If they need us, we do whatever we can to get there for them. We help each other. It’s not magic. It’s friendship! Does it make sense then that we approach our relationship with our God in some similar ways? I don’t want to experience my life without my God! And the more I acknowledge Him in everything the closer I grow to Him. Make sense?

 

 

 

 

HOLIER THAN THOU?

In His amazing mountain sermon, Jesus says this, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Does that statement grab you like it does me? Is Jesus urging us to a “holier than thou” attitude? Are we supposed to get in to some sort of religious contest in which we attempt to outdo others?

The Bible is on record as to God’s view of those who feel they are better than others. In Isaiah, chapter sixty-five, God says He is provoked by people “who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’” (verse 5) God regards such people as smoke in His nostrils, i.e., He finds them irritating. I’m certainly not God, but I also find it irritating when we humans display such an attitude. And doesn’t  Paul, the evangelist, warn us against comparing ourselves to others and drawing conclusions about our spiritual status from the comparisons? (2 Corinthians 10:12) It’s always easy to find someone who hasn’t had the advantages or opportunities we have had, and to come off looking pretty good by contrast. The problem with that approach is that it’s not honest, fair or balanced. There are so many other people with whom we would not favorably compare. We would just as soon not go there. Seeking to justify ourselves through human comparisons is just flat wrong. It’s fine to compare ourselves with others in order to learn and to improve ourselves.

So Jesus isn’t saying that we should be holier than the Pharisees. Is He saying that we should outwork the Pharisees? If we go that route, we need to consider that the Pharisees were very scrupulous about their religion. They had all kinds of rituals and traditions that they taught. There were sincere Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:4-6), who strictly followed these traditions. If our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is based on the number of properly performed rituals we put up, we will be laboring under a very heavy and impossible yoke all through our lives.

So…what did Jesus mean when He said our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees? Jesus’ main slam against the bulk of the Pharisees (there were some sincere among them) was that they were hypocrites (Matthew 23:13,15,23,25,27,29). It’s not just that they sometimes did hypocritical things, as we all do. They were dyed-in-the-wool hypocrites. They were religious from the teeth outward. It never touched their hearts. They argued a great case. And when all was said and done, much more had been said than had been done. Imagine this scenario, somehow in the great stream of religious duties the Pharisees had produced, they had completely lost touch with God. Isn’t that so sad? The religion of the Pharisees did not include a relationship with their God! I am so glad that could never happen to us, aren’t you? The fact is we must take care that we do not lose our God in the trappings we invent within our religion.

When Jesus said that the righteousness of a citizen of the Kingdom must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, He wasn’t discussing quantity. He was speaking of quality. The Pharisees’ righteousness was outward, ours must involve our hearts also. It must be inward, outward and upward. Theirs was showy, ours must be real. Theirs sacrificed the most important upon the altar of details, ours must reveal Christ’s priorities of love, justice and mercy while being honest all the way down to the details. Theirs was often verbal and theoretical, ours must be vital and practical. Theirs was based on the number of correctly practiced rituals, ours is based on faith by the grace of God. Theirs is actually powerless. Ours connects us with the One Who does all things well. How can anyone who loves Jesus and keeps their eyes on Him imagine themselves to be holier than anyone else? Seek His exceeding righteousness!

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