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By His grace we are who God says we are
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Come Thirsty,” published in 2004 by W Publishing Group.
The prodigal son trudges up the path. His pig stink makes passersby walk wide circles around him, but he doesn’t notice. With eyes on the ground, he rehearses his speech: “Father”---his voice barely audible---“I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’m not worthy to be called your son.” He rehashes the phrases, wondering if he should say more, less, or make a U-turn to the barnyard. After all, he cashed in the trust fund and trashed the family name. Over the last year, he’d awakened with more parched throats, headaches, women, and tattoos than a rock star. How could his father forgive him? Maybe I could offer to pay off the credit cards. He’s so focused on penance planning that he fails to hear the sound of his father . . . running!
The dad embraces the mud-layered boy as if he were a returning war hero. He commands the servants to bring a robe, ring, and sandals, as if to say, “No boy of mine is going to look like a pigpen peasant. Fire up the grill. Bring on the drinks. It’s time for a party!”
Big brother meanwhile stands on the porch and sulks. “No one ever gave me a party,” he mumbles, arms crossed.
The father tries to explain, but the jealous son won’t listen. He huffs and shrugs and grumbles something about cheap grace, saddles his high horse, and rides off. But you knew that. You’ve read the parable of the gracious father and the hostile brother (see Luke 15:11—32 NLT).
But have you heard what happened next? Have you read the second chapter? It’s a page-turner. The older brother resolves to rain on the forgiveness parade. If Dad won’t exact justice on the boy, I will.
“Nice robe there, little brother,” he tells him one day. “Better keep it clean. One spot and Dad will send you to the cleaners with it.”
The younger waves him away, but the next time he sees his father, he quickly checks his robe for stains.
A few days later big brother warns about the ring. “Quite a piece of jewelry Dad gave you. He prefers that you wear it on the thumb.”
“The thumb? He didn’t tell me that.”
“Some things we’re just supposed to know.”
“But it won’t fit my thumb.”
“What’s your goal---pleasing our father or your own personal comfort?” the spirituality monitor gibes, walking away.
Big brother isn’t finished. With the pleasantness of a dyspeptic IRS auditor, he taunts, “If Dad sees you with loose laces, he’ll take the sandals back.”
“He will not. They were a gift. He wouldn’t. . . would he?” The ex-prodigal then leans over to snug the strings. As he does, he spots a smudge on his robe. Trying to rub it off, he realizes the ring is on a finger, not his thumb. That’s when he hears his father’s voice. “Hello, Son.”
There the boy sits, wearing a spotted robe, loose laces, and a misplaced ring. Overcome with fear, he reacts with a “Sorry, Dad” and turns and runs.
Too many tasks. Keeping the robe spotless, the ring positioned, the sandals snug---who could meet such standards? Gift preservation begins to wear on the young man. He avoids the father he feels he can’t please. He quits wearing the gifts he can’t maintain. And he even begins longing for the simpler days of the pigpen. “No one hounded me there.”
That’s the rest of the story. Wondering where I found it? On page 1,892 of my Bible, in the book of Galatians, Thanks to some legalistic big brothers, Paul’s readers had gone from grace receiving to law keeping. Their Christian life had taken on the joy level of an upper G.1. endoscopy. Paul was puzzled.
I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ. .
And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might he accepted by God because of out faith in Christ---and not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be saved by obeying the law. (Galatians 1:6—7; 2:16 NLT)
Joy snatchers infiltrated the Roman church as well. Paul had to remind them, “But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work” (Romans 4:5 NLT).
Philippian Christians heard the same foolishness. Big brothers weren’t telling them to wear a ring on their thumb, but they were insisting “you must be circumcised to be saved” (Philippians 3:2 NLT).
Even the Jerusalem church, the flagship congregation, heard the solemn monotones of the Quality Control Board. Non Jewish believers were being told, “You cannot be saved if you are not circumcised as Moses taught us” (Acts 15:1 NCV).
(Today) The churches suffered from the same malady: grace blockage. The Father might let you in the gate, but you have to earn your place at the table. God makes the down payment on your redemption, but you pay the monthly installments. Heaven gives the boat, but you have to row it if you ever want to see the other shore.
Grace blockage. Taste, but don’t drink. Wet your lips, but never slake your thirst. Can you imagine such instruction over a fountain? “No swallowing, please. Fill your mouth but not your belly.”
Absurd. What good is water if you can’t drink it? And what good is grace if you don’t let it go deep?
Do you? What image best describes your heart? A water- drenched kid dancing in front of an open fire hydrant? Or a bristled desert tumbleweed? Here is how you know. One question. Does God’s grace define you? Deeply flowing grace clarifies, once and for all, who we are.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms---all because we are one with Christ Jesus. And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus.
God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:4—9 NLT)
Look how grace defines us. We are
• spiritually alive: “he gave us life” (v. 5);
• heavenly positioned: “seated with him in the heavenly realms” (v. 6);
• connected to God: “one with Christ Jesus” (v. 6);
• billboards of mercy: “examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us” (v. 7);
• honored children: “God saved you by his special favor” (v. 8).
Grace defines you. As grace sinks in, earthly labels fade. Society labels you like a can on an assembly line. Stupid. Unproductive. Slow learner. Fast talker. Quitter. Cheapskate. But as grace infiltrates, criticism disintegrates. You know you aren’t who they say you are. You are who God says you are. Spiritually alive. Heavenly positioned. Connected to the Father. A billboard of mercy. An honored child.
Of course, not all labels are negative. Some people regard you as handsome, clever, successful, or efficient. But even a White House office doesn’t compare with being “seated with him in the heavenly realms.” Grace creates the Christian’s résumé.
It certainly did so for Mephibosheth. Talk about a redefined life. After assuming the throne of Saul, “David began wondering if anyone in Saul’s family was still alive, for he had promised Jonathan that he would show kindness to them” (2 Samuel 9:1 NLT).
The Philistines, you’ll remember, defeated Saul in battle. After the smoke of conflict passed, David sought to display mercy to Saul’s descendants. A servant named Ziba remembered: “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive, but he is crippled” (v.3). No name offered. Just the pain. Labeled by misfortune. An earlier chapter reveals the mishap. When word of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths reached the capital, a nurse in Jonathan’s house swept up his five-year-old boy and fled. But in her haste, she stumbled and dropped him, crippling the boy in both feet.
Where does such a child turn? Can’t walk. Can’t work. Father and grandfather dead. Where can the crippled grandson of a failed leader go?
How about Lo-debar? Sounds like a place charm forgot. Like No Trees, Texas, or Weed, Oregon, or French Lick, Indiana. Lodebar, Israel. Appropriate place for Mephibosheth. Stuck with a name longer than his arm. Dropped like a cantaloupe from a torn paper sack. How low can you go? Low enough to end up living in the low-rent district of Lo-debar.
Acquainted with its streets? If you’ve been dropped, you are.
Dropped from the list. Dropped by a guy. Dropped by the team.
Dropped off at the orphanage. And now you walk with a limp.
People don’t remember your name, but they remember your pain.
“He’s the alcoholic.”“Oh, I remember her. The widow.”“You mean the divorced woman from Nowheresville?”“No. Lo-debarville.” You live labeled.
But then something Cinderella-like happens. The king’s men knock on your Lo-debar door. They load you in a wagon and carry you into the presence of the king. You assume the worst and begin praying for a non-snoring prison cellmate. But the servants don’t deposit you on the jailhouse steps; they set you at the king’s table. Right above your plate sits a place card bearing your name. “And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly with David, as though he were one of his own sons” (2 Samuel 9:11 NLT).
Charles Swindoll has penned a galaxy of fine paragraphs. But my favorite is this imagined scene from David’s palace.
Gold and bronze fixtures gleam from the walls. Lofty, wooden ceilings crown each spacious room. . . . David and his children gather for an evening meal. Absalom, tanned and handsome, is there, as is David’s beautiful daughter Tamar. The call to dinner is given, and the king scans the room to see if all are present. One figure, though, is absent.
Clump, scraaape, clump, scraaape. The sound coming down the hall echoes into the chamber. Clump, scraaape, clump, scraaape. Finally, the person appears at the door and slowly shuffles to his seat. It is the lame Mephibosheth seated in grace at David’s table. And the tablecloth covers his feet. Now the feast can begin.1
From Lo-debar to the palace, from obscurity to royalty, from no future to the king’s table. Quite a move for Mephibosheth. Quite a reminder for us. He models our journey. God lifted us from the dead-end street of Lo-debarville and sat us at his table. “We are seated with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6 NLT).
Marinate your soul in that verse. Next time the arid desert winds blow, defining you by yesterday’s struggles, reach for God’s goblet of grace and drink. Grace defines who you are. The parent you can’t please is as mistaken as the doting uncle you can’t disappoint. People hold no clout. Only God does. According to him, you are his. Period. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).
Suppose Mephibosheth had seen this verse. Imagine someone back in the Lo-debar days telling him, “Don’t be discouraged, friend. I know you can’t dance or run. Others kick the soccer ball, and you’re stuck here staring out the window. But listen, God wrote your story. He cast you in his drama. Three thousand years from now your story will stir an image of grace for some readers in the twenty-first century.”
Would he have believed it? I don’t know. But I pray that you will. You hang as God’s work of art, a testimony in his gallery of grace.
Over a hundred years ago, a group of fishermen were relaxing in the dining room of a Scottish seaside inn, trading fish stories. One of the men gestured widely, depicting the size of a fish that got away. His arm struck the serving maid’s tea tray, sending the teapot flying into the whitewashed wall, where its contents left an irregular brown splotch.
The innkeeper surveyed the damage and sighed, “The whole wall will have to be repainted.”
“Perhaps not,” offered a stranger. “Let me work with it.”
Having nothing to lose, the proprietor consented. The man pulled pencils, brushes, some jars of linseed oil, and pigment out of an art box. He sketched lines around the stains and dabbed shades and colors throughout the splashes of tea. In time, an image began to emerge: a stag with a great rack of antlers. The man inscribed his signature at the bottom, paid for his meal, and left. His name: Sir Edwin Landseer, famous painter of wildlife.
In his hands, a mistake became a masterpiece.2
God’s hands do the same, over and over. He draws together the disjointed blotches in our life and renders them an expression of his love. We become pictures: “examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us” (Ephesians 2:7 NLT).
Who determines your identity? What defines you? The day you were dropped? Or the day you were carried to the King’s table?
Receive God’s work. Drink deeply from his well of grace. As grace sinks deep into your soul, Lo-debar will become a dot in the rearview mirror. Dark days will define you no more. You’re in the palace now.
And now you know what to say to the big brothers of this world. No need for frantic robe cleaning or rules for ring wearing. Your deeds don’t save you. And your deeds don’t keep you saved. Grace does. The next time big brother starts dispensing more snarls than twin Dobermans, loosen your sandals, set your ring on your finger, and quote the apostle of grace who said, “By the grace of God I am what I am”(l Corinthians 15:10 NKJV). (29-37)
1. Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and I,501 Other Stories (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 250.
2. Ron Lee Davis with James D. Denny, Mistreated (Portland, OR: Multnormah Press, 1989), l47-8.
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