When we are invited into the “fellowship of His sufferings” and the “gospel of weakness” is preached to our soul and makes us its convert, and, like Job, we are left with hanging hands, questioning heart and smitten soul…we need to be able to face the most urgent questions of our lifetime.
IS GOD IN CONTROL?
CAN I TRUST HIM TO BRING ME THROUGH THIS INTO A BETTER PLACE?
The Psalmist said,
“it is GOOD for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn to trust Your ways.”
He preceded that with this stunning piece of insight:
“YOU ARE GOOD, and You do good…”
(Notice the order; we want to reverse those clauses)
Allow me to share some insights God showed me recently from Romans 8:18-39 – one of Paul’s strongest sermons ever.
Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait…
I saw it again recently. It wasn’t overt; it was subtle, not evident. But it was there, even if only a flicker or quickly passing guarded judgment.
I opened a gate into my personal space for a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I chatted about our lives, what’s been happening…and the truest and most painful update of all. I revealed to them that we buried our son – who they remembered as a young child – the weekend of Christmas, each revelation more difficult and dark. Might as well say it all, I was thinking. Someone said, “there’s no valor in faking it; there’s tremendous valor in facing it.”
So I faced it.
“Our son was a heroin addict. He died of an overdose.”
It was there. I saw it. The quick unspoken interview, dying to ask, holding back, not wanting to judge, but still…
How did that happen?
(He was such a sweet child)
What drove him to drugs?
(It had to be something in his upbringing)
How could you, the gatekeepers of everything that influenced him, his protectors, his spiritual guardians, let him sink so low?
(Couldn’t you see the signs?)
All that in the quiet space of about two hundredths of a micro-second. I saw it. I could tell. Then I thought, I know what you’re thinking because those are the very first questions – even accusations – that would pop into my head if I were sitting where you’re sitting.
This time I didn’t react to the look and quickly go to a defensive tack and say how it was the bent of his heart mixed with bad company, adding to that the “mark of Cain” of being given up for adoption, placed in a minister’s home, and calling a disabled man “Dad.”
What I did, instead, was to say that the Father saw my son – yes, with a needle in his arm and hating himself for it (I know he did) – He saw the pain in his soul and heard his cry for mercy and RAN to him, met him in the back seat where he was all alone on a Minnesota December morning, and, as his life was ebbing away, said, “Graham Scott, you’ve had enough of this pig sty, and I’m going to do two things: I’m going to hug you with the stench of offal and sour earth still on you, yes; and then I’m going to escort you to the kingdom I’ve prepared for you.”
I told my friend that God is a Good Father, a Gracious King and a merciful Rescuer. I told my friend that Sandy and I, though wrecked with an earthly grief that persists to this morning and beyond, we’re confident that even in this God is good. That is STILL TRUE. Taking Graham from us was an incredible act of mercy on His part.
And now, perhaps one or two are having a similar internal dialogue in response to what I’ve just said.
Wait. Your son was an addict. He died from a heroin high. He had been partying with friends. How is it you’re so sure he’s with God?
I have to tell you, when I got inboxed on Facebook from Graham’s birth mother on the day he was found in that pitiful condition, saying that he was on life support but no other info was available to her, that when I finally was able to get through to her, understood that our boy was grave and the next 24 to 48 hours were critical.
My first thought?
Oh, God, what if he dies (didn’t know he was already gone)?
Lord, will our boy be with you?
My theology doesn’t allow for a “say a prayer” one-and-done salvation. It is constructed of the message of the Kingdom, that salvation is “from faith to faith” and thoroughly “from first to last.”
I suppose you can see the conflict, knowing what you know now.
Lord God, Father of mercies, what will become of my son?
And, as sure as a burning bush glowed in my dining room, as sure as if an angel made an entrance into my space and time, as sure as Elijah hiding out in a mountain cranny, the Father’s Word split through the gauzy mist of the moment and reassured me.
[I] forgave the iniquity of your [son];
[I] covered all [his] sin.
(Now I can say:)
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
[Your] steadfast love and faith meet;
[Your] righteousness and peace kiss each other.
I read those words from that day’s scripture on my Bible app and knew without a shred of doubt that my son was in that moment dressed in white, being carried by angels and laid at the feet of sinful man’s Redeemer and Eternal Hope. There Graham bowed and was hugged by God Himself.
How can this be?
How can God call “holy” that which, from all appearances, seems so unholy?
Does He, then, save everyone, universally, unconditionally, no questions asked?
Well, no, of course not.
What “saves” us?
Romans 8:24 says “hope” saves us. Hope in something we can’t see.
Specifically, the “redemption of our bodies” (v23) is what the saved hope for. What, then, does this entail?
(1) Firstly, The understanding that there’s something past the grave, that death doesn’t end it.
(2) Secondly, The submission to the truth that we need something outside ourselves to extend our lives on into eternity, namely a Somebody, a Redeemer.
(3) Thirdly, The recognition that there’s something in us worth redeeming, that we are not lost causes.
(4) Fourthly, The sometimes-painful truth that what we see now is not the finished product, that the Father obligates Himself – through our yielding and repentances – to make us fit for eternity
The apostle says hope that can be seen with our natural sight is not the hope he’s referring to. Thank God THAT’S not what saves us! If we have hope of future glory based solely on going to church, being moral, living clean, minding our tongue, giving to charities, and the like, we’d be sunk.
Where the Lord looks – not where we can see – is into the heart. If Graham walked in here this morning, looking the way he did before December 16, 2013, most of us would see a lost soul. Covered in tattoos, fully sleeved, face, neck, legs and hands, thick with the cloying smell of nicotine, pants sagging, and ghetto-speak, we’d start praying for his soul.
And I’d be praying right along with you!
It’s sad that many of us put ALL our trust in our performance to save us rather than God’s foreknowledge and grace. In the end, when we appear before the King Who Reigns – and all of us will – the question (forget the St. Peter at the gate jokes) that will be asked will be “What did you do with My Son?” and the only response accepted will be “I looked to Him and cried out for His mercies to save me from beginning to end.”
The Father will say “I know. I saw you choose My Son before you were even born. It was in eternity past that I elected you based on your disposition toward My Son. Enter into the joy of the Eternal Kingdom!”
The woman of Sychar wouldn’t pass inspection either. But Jesus wouldn’t write her off. Nor would the woman who was face-planted at the feet of Jesus in John 8 be most churches’ candidate for membership. But Jesus wouldn’t condemn her. The shady woman that interrupted a dinner party in Luke 7 wouldn’t make the grade but Jesus didn’t interrupt her love-fest on His feet. I’ll bet most of the Twelve who were in Jesus’ band wouldn’t be our cup of tea either, but they were the Master’s Men.
Yeah, one was a devil…and we know he’s in hell.
What you’re thinking is what I assure you I still preach: “but,” you say, “the woman at the well surely ceased her wild ways, the woman of John 8 who got a divine reprieve most likely took Christ’s counsel to heart and repented, the grateful whore of Luke 7 certainly mended her ways, and the disciples were noticeably different after having been with Jesus.”
Yes. All that is true.
I twice warned my son “as long as you’re looking for a way OUT instead of the way HOME, you’ll always remain a prodigal.”
The Father, it says, “searches the hearts” (v27) and who are we to “condemn His elect?” (V33) because “it is God who justifies” whom He will (v33) and who He justifies,”He also glorifies” (v30).
These great verses are preceded by one very important qualifier: God offers His Holy Spirit to help the weak (v26). We’re too weak to save ourselves. We’re even too weak to hope for the redemption of our bodies! We need God to accomplish in us what we are too weak to do for ourselves.
Andrew Murray, in The Two Covenants, wrote long ago:
“There are some still looking wistfully at this blessed life [New Covenant], and yet afraid to trust themselves to this wondrous grace. They have a conception of faith as something great and mighty, and they know and feel that theirs is not such. And so their feebleness remains an insuperable barrier to their inheriting the promise. Let me try and say once again: Brother, the act of faith, by which you accept and enter this life in the New Covenant, is not commonly an act of power, but often of weakness and fear and much trembling. And even in the midst of all this feebleness, it is not an act in your strength [that saves], but in a secret and perhaps unfelt strength, which Jesus – the Surety of the Covenant – gives you.”
The Spirit in the believer “groans” for the believer to be fitted for eternity, to make it Home (v26). Do you think any of the Holy Spirit’s prayers will be unanswered? Of course not! Verse 27 tells us that the Holy Spirit prays according to the will of the Father! AND GETS RESULTS! (Grk meaning)
What is the Father’s will?
(1) To call sinners too weak to save themselves.
(2) To justify sinners too weak to reconcile themselves to God
(3) To transform sinners into holy beings.
(4) To make us overcomers in this life.
(5) To give sainted sinners the same glory He gives His Son.
(6) To pray us into His eternity (vv27,34).
(7) To remove all condemnation by making us His own, and loving us unconditionally and never letting us go.
What if the elect don’t look elect?
What if they do not overcome in this life?
Can there still be hope?
Remember, hope that is logical, *makes* sense, *looks* like hope, *holds up* to our standard of hope…still hasn’t even come close to the Hope of Christ. Isn’t that amazing?
His Hope accomplishes “ALL THESE THINGS”.
The reason we can overcome in “ALL THESE THINGS” (v35) is because of ALL THESE THINGS:
“The Lord searches and knows our hearts” and still accepts us (v27)
“The Lord sees our weakness” and helps us (v26)
“The Lord intercedes for the saints” (v27)
“The Lord works it all together for our good”(v28)
“The Lord elects”
“The Lord predestines”
“The Lord conforms” (v29)
“The Lord calls”
“The Lord justifies”
“The Lord glorifies”(v30)
What is the common factor in all those blessed promises? What is constant?
Our salvation – from first to last – is the Lord’s doing! It’s all of grace! Not of works, else we’d make salvation less divine and more human. God prophesied that He’d take our hearts of stone and make them flesh…FOR HIS GLORY! (Ezk 36:25,26)
But isn’t there some expectation that those who have had heart transplants (I.e., born again) should walk in holiness?
I say amen.
Am I resetting the standard just because it’s my son? No, and God hasn’t reset His either. Not by a long shot.
That’s why my son was taken out of this earth – he put himself under the severest discipline of the Lord who is both merciful and “severe” (Rom 11:22) and committed the “sin that is unto death” (1Jn 5:16). How God handled Graham Scott in the end shows us two things:
(1) God saves “sinners”, that salvation is messy because it forgives the unforgivable, and,
(2) whom God saves, He lays claim to, and has rights to, He owns and can treat how He will (we know from the Romans 8 passage that He only deals with His own in love).
>The Lord searches the hearts
>The Lord knows who belongs to Him (2Ti 2:19)
>God is FOR His own
>No charge, no accusation, no condemnation stands up against His decree
If you’re struggling with condemning thoughts, do THREE things:
(1) Examine yourself, whether you’re in the faith
The quickest way to determine this is to answer “Who/What are you trusting for your day to day strength and eternal destiny?”
(2) Exhibit yourself under the holy gaze of the Spirit of God (Psa 139:22)
Let Him show you where you are failing in the grace of God, where you are being overcome instead of overcoming…and REPENT
(3) (Then) Excuse yourself from self-condemning thoughts and evil accusations
If the Lord set His affection on you to save you…
IT’S STILL TRUE.
If Jesus ever loved you before…
IT’S STILL TRUE.
If He adopted you, not based in your ability to measure up and qualify, but in His foreknowledge and provision to save you,
IT’S STILL TRUE.
If grace saved you at the first…and you were not worth saving…
IT’S STILL TRUE.
If God began the work of salvation in you…
IT’S STILL TRUE…
…and He will finish His work, fit you for His eternity and redeem your bodies, your spirit and your soul.
I just read this morning – a quote by Perry Noble – and it’s spot on for all of us who are kinda looking at ourselves as we are, our circumstances, all the things that really, well, stink, and wonder if there can be a miracle in my mess…
“If it ain’t good, God ain’t done.”
Forget the grammar; embrace the grace.
God forgives, forgets, makes new and makes it permanent. When my son died, I was overcome by a massive tidal wave of emotions but God channeled them all to the harbor of Truth and I wrote these words:
“God blessed Sandy and me with the gift of a lifetime, our son Graham. We were blessed to have our baby boy (our only) for twenty-four fun-filled, amazing, tragic, adventurous, never-a-dull-moment, heart-wrenching, miraculous, painful, sweet, cuddly, hard, eye-opening, jaw-dropping, hand-clapping, sweet-as-pie, soft-as-silk, abrasive-as-sandpaper, thrilling, magical, wonderful years.
Yesterday, he went Home. He’s with Jesus. The war is over. The struggle has ended. Devil, you scoundrel, you wanted to destroy him but God promoted him. You can’t touch him anymore. Can’t. You lose. Gra-Gra is with God now. Praise Jesus, his chains are gone. Amazing, amazing grace.
And, beloved struggler on the way: He is for you too. It ain’t done. But when He finishes you out – if you trust Him to do it – you’re gonna be breathtakingly beautiful.