The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
How many of you would say that you are living and abundant life? What exactly makes life abundant? Does it have to be an entire life or is this a temporary gig? Jesus tells us that He came that we might have this abundant life. Does that mean that we can sit on the couch eating Twinkies and simply receive a fulfilling and abundant life? I guess the real question is abundant life and salvation the same thing? I look around and if most of the saved and sanctified saints are living an abundant life, I don’t really want any part of it. They seem to have little peace in their lives, very little joy, most have little self-control or any of the other fruits of the Spirit for that matter. As I consider, Jesus’ words I must believe that there is more which leads me to another important question. Is abundant life possible this side of Heaven?
Among the reasons that we fail to experience abundant life on this side of Heaven is that too often we are holding on too firmly to this world. The saints have become so busy fighting for their own little kingdoms that they have failed to notice that they have been invited into something much larger. Jealousy and a desire for fame, fortune and man made security have drawn in many church leaders to the enemies trap. No they are not flagrantly sinning. They have just taken their eyes off of their dearest friend who is walking on the water and beaconing you to join Him. When the storm comes and all of that fame, fortune and man-made security structures are shown to have built on the sand, fear is the only logical result. We can not stand the storm apart from Jesus.
What kind of foundation have you built your life on? In the book of Genesis, we are given an incredible story of Joseph. When we meet Joseph, he is a bit of a spoiled brat. He brags to his ten older brothers about being the favored one. At one point he goes so far as to essentially say that ultimately even his mom and dad would honor him. As might be expected ultimately this snotty young man is beat up by his brothers. Now Joseph did not choose that result. He did not pray to be beat up and left for dead in a well. Nor did he pray for what happened next. As his brothers were recovering from the brutality of the fight (Beating up your brother takes a lot out of you. I know that from experience. Sorry about that Stephen.) they stopped for lunch and discussed what to do next. They actually had many options. One thought leave him in the well and ultimately he will die. Problem solved and technically they did not kill him. But this plan had a fatal flaw. What if some do gooder came along and rescued him? He would come home and tell dad and they would be in trouble. The second option presented itself as if it was a divine intervention. (It was by the way.) They could sell him to their cousins who were slave traders. Joseph would be enslaved in Egypt. Problem solved. They would be free of any charge of murder and better yet, Joseph would suffer for the rest of his life. He could not escape Egypt to tell dad the truth. Best of all, the brothers would make a little bit of money in the effort. That is what the brothers went with and to make their story better they stole Joseph’s coat and put a little goat’s blood on it and presented it to dad as proof that Joseph was dead. Notice they never actually said that he as dead but spun the story so that Jacob came to his own conclusion. Again, Joseph did not pray for or desire to be sold a slave. But, Joseph chose not to suffer. While being a slave for Potiphar, Joseph outworked the other slaves. He learned skills and prepared for his future. He did not know what that future might look like, but he learned and worked to be better. He may not have noticed it but he was growing in maturity. His character was growing. Just as he reaches the best he can do as a slave he is falsely accused of trying to sleep with the boss’s wife. This is a punishable offense and Joseph is put in prison. Again, Joseph chooses not to suffer but to grow. In prison, Joseph learns and rises to the top. Ultimately, Joseph is second in command of the prison and is respected by officials and prisoners alike. There is at least one incident that is recorded that lets us know that God is using him in the prison but he is forgotten. What does it feel like to be dismissed and forgotten? That is how Joseph likely felt, yet he did not give up. Ultimately Joseph is released from prison and made second in command of Egypt which was the world’s superpower of the time. That is quite the promotion! While in that position his brothers (who you will remember beat him up, sold him into slavery) show up and needed a handout. Now if Joseph was still the spoiled brat that he was at the beginning of the story than things will not go well for his brothers. However, God has used all of these circumstances to mature and grow and develop Joseph to be a man of character and more importantly, to save the nation of Egypt along with others. Reflect on the Joseph story for a bit. Who is it who put Joseph in the pit, sold him into slavery, let him live and be forgotten in prison?
Most would point out the brothers, Potiphar’s wife, the cupbearer or just bad luck. But the Bible tells us this realization,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
It was God set all of this up. Our Creator accomplished many things in this case. He rescued countless people from starvation. He healed the heart of Joseph. He demonstrated the power of forgiveness. You get the point. God is in control.
Our first step in living out God’s Grace is to accept that God is sovereign. No good or bad thing that we experience has escaped His notice. He is wise and He knows what He is doing.
A second foundation is that we must create a safe and healing environment around us. This will not come into being accidentally just because we go to church. Our homes, our churches, our businesses and community require us to create a place where people can be safe. This seems pretty basic. How often are you going to go to a business where you simply do not feel safe? This is critical for the stability of living out a life filled with God’s grace.
When I was pastoring there was a widow in my church. She was a bundle of energy and very flamboyant. She loved the Lord and she was not afraid to tell everyone she met how much Jesus meant to her. One Saturday night at about 9:00 pm I received a call from her. She asked me to come over and help her. It seems that a wayward grandson was at her house and was refusing to leave. Multiple times he had stolen from her and she really just did not feel safe inviting him into her home. But here he was in the living room and she wanted to go to bed but wanted him to leave first. He refused. It was not only him but a small group of friends that were planning on occupying her home. When I arrived she was a bit frantic. She communicated her love for her grandson and told me of his past misdeeds. Her heart was obviously breaking. Lounging all around the living room was a motley troupe of folks. Maybe I was already getting old, but they all seemed very young. Some were obviously high and drunk. As I entered the living room the grandson began to plead his case. He was a musician, and this was his band. They were traveling across the state and their gig that night had been canceled. They just wanted to crash at his grandmother’s house for one night and move along. After a lengthy conversation filled with tears and some actually calm arguing the band finally left about 1:00 am. I stood in her doorway and watched their van pull away then looked back at the typically merry widow. She fell apart sobbing uncontrollably for about 30 minutes and I just held her there in the doorway. She pulled it together and went inside. I made sure the door was locked before going home. The next morning as the pastor I had to be at church even though needless to say I was more than tired. Deep down I did not expect her to be at church that morning. My eyes might have bugged out when she walked through the door. She was in the loudest most flowery dress I had ever seen anyone wearing. Her smile radiated the sanctuary. When I asked her how she was doing she replied that she was “blessed and highly favored.” The truth was that she was putting on a mask. When I looked in her eyes, I could see the pain. She was embarrassed by her grandson. She was hurt by his accusations that he had made the night before. Finally, she was tired. Why did she not feel safe in this building that should have been a Spiritual hospital? The confession would not have been too long. All she had to say is, “I am hurting.” The church could have wrapped around her and loved on her and comforted her broken heart. Instead she put on a show. This happens nearly every week at a church near you. We in the church are afraid to confess that just maybe our lives are not what we would want. There is this fear that we will speak our failures and pains into existence. God created the church to be an emergency room for the broken hearted. We must admit that we do not have the spiritual power to muscle through every circumstance and trial.
When we are living Grace, we become a picture of Jesus walking the earth. We offer love, healing and correction. Our sovereign God will give us the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words and emotions to demonstrate to this broken world His Forgiveness, His Majesty, His Power, His Wisdom, His Knowledge and His Revelation.
For too long the church has been operating in their own power and interpretations. They love God’s Word (Like the Scribes and Pharisees) but don’t know Him. They love to be seen attending church, but rarely live out His Word. Rarely do they live out His Grace. It is time to make a change. Let that change begin with me.