Category: Christian Living

Lessons on Common Grace

Common grace. This is what I taught my third and fourth graders on the Wednesday night before I went on vacation. Little did I know that God was going to use our vacation to teach me more about common grace.

Question 27 of The New City Catechism asks “Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?” The answer is “No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.”

This question was the basis for our lesson. Of course, we discussed election and salvation through Christ alone by faith alone, but I wanted to make sure that we talked about God’s gift of common grace to all people, both lost and saved, for the good of all people. I wanted to make sure that they understood that God gives all men the ability to appreciate His good gifts and that because He created all men in His image, they are all blessed with a huge variety of creative capabilities.

We talked about doctors who heal our diseases. Must doctors be Christians to be able to heal us? Of course not! Must police officers be Christians to be able to keep us safe? No again. Must the carpet-cleaning man be a Christian to be able to properly clean our carpet? Naturally not. God blesses us with gifted people, both Christian and non-Christian, who make our lives better every day. Both Christians and non-Christians benefit from God’s gifts. Common grace.

The kids got it. Lesson over. Home to finish packing.

But God wasn’t done teaching me.

One of the main goals for our vacation was to see the California Redwoods. I’m sure that I will never forget my first impression on walking into a grove of redwoods. The size was completely overwhelming, but added to that was the exquisite aroma and the perfect silence. The silence was akin to the quiet I experienced as a child walking into the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning – the silence that only tolerates the tiniest of whispers. Once that impression passed I wanted to laugh and ask God what in the world He was thinking when He created such majestic, overweening specimens of His creative genius. Surely He must have laughed to think of our reaction to these giants!

California Redwoods

 

And then I remembered that He made these wonderful trees for all men to enjoy. Common grace.

We delighted in many more of God’s creations in the coming days – ocean waves and strange rock formations and gorgeous rivers and looming mountains. All given for all men to enjoy. Common grace.

Oregon Coast
Mt. Shasta

I got it. I understood God’s common grace. Or I thought I did.

Until we got to Portland, Oregon where another highly anticipated stop on the trip awaited us. Powell’s City of Books. Yes, a giant bookstore. As I walked through the many different rooms and marveled at floor-to-ceiling books, I thought about the people behind all those books – authors and editors and publishers and printers and booksellers. All gifted by God to bring ideas and information and pleasure to people everywhere and throughout time.

Were they all Christians? No, but they were all created in the image of God to be creative just as He is. Common grace.

One more lesson remained to be learned on the Columbia River on a riverboat.

Part of the trip required that our riverboat should navigate through the Cascades Lock. I’d read about locks but had never seen one in operation. I can’t give you official terms or measurements but I can tell you that the lock was much bigger than I anticipated. Several ships could fit into it at a time. The crew tied our boat up to the lock and then we waited. The captain explained that the huge gates behind us would close and then the water would be let out of the lock just as if we were letting the water out of a giant bathtub. The whole process would take about twelve minutes.

Bottom of the Lock
Lock Gates

It happened just as he said. We could even see a huge swirl of water just like in the bathtub when the water goes down the drain. I couldn’t stop watching and wondering how men ever dreamed up such an amazing and useful invention on such an incredibly huge scale. How? An even more amazing God gifted them with the knowledge and understanding and inventiveness to do it. Common grace.

Timothy Keller says this about common grace:

…we must appreciate the common grace that God gives across the whole human race. We must see that God is helping us and helping in the world through many people who do not believe. We need to appreciate those. We must be grateful for them, and we must respect them. That’s the balance that we must strike.

In a time when our society is finding more and more reasons to be divided and to suspect each other, Christians need to grab onto truths like this which enable us to view our fellow men and women as people made in the image of God, gifted to be a blessing to all men, loved by their Creator God, and worthy of our love and respect as well.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

I like my Kindle, but I have just one little complaint about it. Books can get buried in there! Books that I was eager to buy and to read, but they get lost in all the other books hidden away in my Kindle. Real books don’t do that. They sit on my desk and call to me to be read.

That explains why it took me so long to get to Jen Wilkins’ most recent book – None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). I read the book and loved every word of it and then my Kindle coughed up yet another hidden book – Discovering the God Who Is: His Character and Being, His Power and Personality by R. C. Sproul. I love it when God puts companion books in my way! Surely He is doing it to make a point.

God is Different From Us

God is so much more than we can begin to imagine. And it’s good to find out who He is and what He has done and how He is so very different from us.

R. C. Sproul writes in the preface to his book, “It is not enough for the Christian to know that God is; we must be driven by a holy passion to know who He is. The pursuit of the knowledge of God must never be undertaken as a casual exercise. It must be the chief business of our lives.”

The chief business! The chief business – the main things we do in life – is to be finding out who God is. Do you hear that? The chief business…pursuing the knowledge of God.

Why Does It Matter That God Is Different From Us?

And where does the knowledge of God bring us?

Jen Wilkins says, “The knowledge of God, and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. We cannot understand our human limitedness rightly until we see it compared to the limitlessness of God.”

And for me, understanding who I am in comparison to who God is causes me to forget myself and to worship the almighty God.

When I see God as He is (as much as a finite human can see him) and when I see myself as I truly am, I am compelled to believe Him and to trust Him and to rest in His promises. And I am reluctant to take a step without Him.

What Is Our Response to the God Who Is Different From Us?

Jen Wilkins tells us that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, and sovereign. In the book, she explains these amazing characteristics and gives us room to respond to them. At the end of each chapter are Verses for Meditation, Questions for Reflection, and Pray. I have to admit that when I am not reading a book like this in a group that I skim through the response sections, but this time I journaled my responses, taking time to read and think and pray.

I am so glad I did! Taking time to meditate on God’s ways…making it our chief business…could there be a better use of our time?

And then throughout the day, remembering His character and being encouraged or edified or corrected or motivated by who My God is. This is why it good that God is different from us. It is good for us to stand in awe of the God who is bigger than we can ever know. It is good for us to be humbled before Him. It is indeed the beginning of wisdom – the fear of the Lord.

The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Psalm 50:1

 

photography by Unsplash.com

What Grieving People Wish You Knew

I was standing in the reception line after a funeral waiting to shake the hands of the grieving family members and I was wondering what I was going to say to these people I barely knew.

Standing…waiting…wondering. Those words only partly describe me that day. The word I need to add?

Panicking.

What could I say? What could make this awful thing better? And, yes, I was thinking, “What can I say that will help them and yet not make me look like a complete idiot?”

I mumbled something – I don’t even remember what, but I did come away with the impression that I had said something stupid. So, when I heard about Nancy Guthrie’s book, What Grieving People Wish You Know About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts), I bought it right away.

To be honest, I put off reading the book until a friend was grieving the loss of a dear family member. I had to know what to say to her and what to do for her. I’ve read the book twice since then. I mentioned it in my post Best Books of 2016, but I really need to tell you more about it and convince you that you need to read What Grieving People Wish You Knew.

My first impression of the book is that it is a perfect example of what correction in the church should be. The reader is lovingly called out for mishandling grieving people and then shown how to handle the problem in a way that is solidly based in Scripture. Nancy Guthrie’s kind and loving unwillingness to allow us to dodge the problem and her generous and open sharing of ways to help our grieving friends has given me a great respect for her. More than that it has made me eager to hear her and to follow her advice.

So let’s get on with it – let me give you a taste of her advice to those of us who want to know what grieving people wish we knew. Here are just three from the first chapter entitled “What To Say (And What Not to Say)”.

1. Say Something

Saying nothing tells your friend that her loss was not important – that her loved one was not that important. Saying that you are sorry for her loss is better than saying nothing at all. Nancy also points out that is important to say the name of the person who died. They haven’t disappeared as if they never existed. They have died and the grieving family needs to know that they are not forgotten. Remember that your words won’t fix what has happened, but they can let your friend know that she isn’t alone.

2. Don’t Compare Their Grief to Yours

Before my friend lost her family member, my mother had died. I thought I knew what she was feeling, but the truth is that I didn’t at all. Hearing about your experience is not helpful until and unless your grieving friend asks. This is a time for us to practice humility, keep ourselves out of it, and make it all about our friends.  Which leads to another wise piece of advice.

3. Take The Grieving Person’s Lead

People handle grief in so many different ways and in so many different time frames. We must purposely determine to be listeners and to be companions in the journey, allowing the grieving friend to lead in what she wants to talk about and when she wants to talk about it. Nancy writes, “…there is great power and comfort in simply showing up and being willing to sit in the silence and listen to the person who is grieving give voice to their regrets…fears…complaints…rehearsals of the events…questions…chaotic thoughts, conflicting feelings, disappointments, desires, and despair.” Let your grieving friend talk.

These three pieces of advice are just the tip of the iceberg of this lovely book. There are pages and pages of quotes from grieving people telling us what to do and what to say and what not to say to them.

Nancy Guthrie also talks to us about what to do for grieving people. When someone dies, we so want to do something to make it better, but there are only so many casseroles a grieving family can consume. What else can we do? Nancy gives us a whole chapter of ideas such as leave messages on the phone, send notes, mark your calendar to make contact on the anniversary of the death, share photos of the deceased that the grieving friend may never have seen, and bring stuff like toilet paper and paper plates – common things that may get forgotten until they are needed.

There’s so much more I love about this book – the insight into the true feelings of grieving people and the loving encouragement to stand by a grieving friend. There’s no condemnation of our reactions to grief in the past – just truth to help us to minister to grieving people now and in the days to come.

You will have grieving friends – it’s a fact we cannot escape. If you want to be useful to your friends rather than panicking in the reception line, read What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie.

 

photograhy by Unsplash.com

May They Find Us Faithful

Many years ago, when my children were little I heard Steve Green sing these words:

“Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.”

Those words stuck with me while we were raising our children, but I think that now, as a grandparent, they instruct me in the way I am to interact with my grandchildren. And the timing seems much more urgent. My oldest grandchild is almost five years old. In another eight years or so, her beliefs about God for the rest of her life will be pretty much established.

Eight years passes by with frightening speed.

So, what can we do to make sure that we leave footprints for them to follow?

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.

Sounds kind of scriptural, right? If our love for God is not real and strong and devoted, it won’t last and it won’t be obvious to our children. You know how it is – you can preach and preach to your family, but if they don’t see it modeled, you might as well preach to a rock.

I always think of Paul when I think of modeling the Christian faith. Everywhere he went he was genuine and unashamed of his love for the God who had changed him.

Just one example – read the words he wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy.

“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

2 Timothy 1:12b-13

After Paul reminded Timothy of his own faith, he was able to instruct Timothy to listen to his words and to follow in his footsteps.

2. Keep your memories of God’s power in your life fresh.

We all have stories of what God has done in our lives – how He saved us; how He has provided for us; how He has made us strong enough for trials – all kinds of stories. The Israelites who were brought out of Egypt had stories too – stories that God expected them to tell to their children.

Take the crossing of the Red Sea, for example. If you had experienced such a thing – tons of water pushed back by an invisible hand, walking through the sea on dry land, and then watching your enemies destroyed when the waters were allowed to rush back – would you have had any doubts about the power of God?

“Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.”

Exodus 14:31

And would you ever have stopped talking about what you had seen God do?

And yet they did stop talking about it.

And a generation grew up who didn’t even know the story. A generation who did not serve the one, true, living God.

God has given you stories and you need to be telling them to your family.

3. Pray

Pray for yourself to really know and love the one true God.

Pray that God would keep you faithful.

Pray that God would shine the light through you to your family and those around you.

Pray that those who come behind you would follow as Timothy followed his mentor, Paul, and his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois.

Pray, remembering that it is God who is faithful to complete the good work He has begun in all of us.

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