Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More Grace - counsel from R. Kent Hughes

I had almost forgotten about this book.  Cannot remember when I purchased it, but since it was first published in 1993, it seems to me that I started reading it shortly after we had returned from a Seminar in Dallas, TX, led by Bob George and I was - at first, amazed at what Hughes was saying.  It seemed to run counter to what I had been taught and I had yet to realize, learning does not often come about after our first discovery of something new.

Grace, God's Grace, was something entirely new to me in those days and I was about to discover that I was not the only Christian with an interest in drawing closer to our Savior.  The problem, I was about to discover, was that God's Grace was not a familiar topic in most churches.  Now, I can say without a doubt in my mind, Grace is the most over looked doctrine in all of Christiandom.

But not to R. Kent Hughes when he penned this wonder filled book.  He takes an approach that I have not discovered elsewhere, and after considering his thoughts, I have to wonder why it is not.

He reasons; Law invites Grace.  "This may sound strange to some ears because salvation is by Grace alone, totally apart from the works of the Law.  The Apostle Paul is absolutely clear about this.  'And if by Grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, Grace would no longer be Grace.' (Romans 11:6)
No one has even come close to being saved by the works of the Law."  Solo gratia!

"Law and Grace are not antithetical or the least bit opposed.  In fact, the Law was founded on God's Grace."

And now, he reminds us of the Law, starting with the first great Commandment.  "You shall have no other Gods before me."  It is extremely gracious as it protects God's people from worshiping people and philosophies,"    For example, it forbids worshiping technology, appetites, sex, money and most important - in today's society, self.  Bottom line, it reminds us that God wants to have us and He wants us to have Him.  It reminds us, we all need to take an inventory of the 'little' other Gods in our lives.

The second Commandment; "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything."   The first Commandment forbids the existence of of other Gods; the second, "the making of other Gods." Hughes comments, The clearer our vision, the freer it is of idolatry, and the greater our love."

The third Commandment: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, our God."  "It bans irreverence, the use of "O God" or "Jesus" as an exclamation point or as a chic expression that apparently fears not even the divine.  This prohibition comes from the fact that the misuse of God's name and our growth in our love of God are mutually exclusive."

The fourth Commandment:  "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy".  Hughes offers this comment, "Wise Christians will incorporate the rest principle as best we can, as it is rooted in our cosmos, so that there is a genesis rhythm of life which, if observed, will benefit us  physically and spiritually."

The fifth Commandment:  "Honor your Mother and Father so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you."   This is the Commandment that kept me as a child and for too many following years, away from the teachings of the Church.  In my mind, it was OK for others but in my case, I thought my father and mother had abandoned me - sending me to spent the days of my youth on the farm with my grandparents, rather than "fathering" and "mothering" me.  Other kids had fathers and mothers; I had none, I thought  Stupid reasoning, of course, but my childish fears, once established, stuck and went deep into my psyche.  I was almost 45 years of age before I heard the Word of the Lord, clearly - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and as I considered that thought, the fears of my childhood returned and I began to realize how wrong I had been, not to realize how truly blessed I had been to be the subject of my grandparent's love and constant care for me.  It was, by reasoning only known by God, that I am now in my 85th year of life, healthy and eagerly awaiting for the next day and even, the next hour, to have demonstrated once again, the love our Father has showered upon me.

The sixth Commandment:  "You shall not murder."  Again, it took me years to understand this commandment as murdering others was in the deepest recesses of my mind.  I grew up in the war years, WWII and then, Korea.  Killing was killing, no matter the cause.  And then, a buddy of mine in the USAF, callously murdered another buddy.  He was sentenced to death and I wept uncontrollably at the thought, I had lost two friends.  But as my grandfather, used to teach, "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..."  He moved in my life to help the survivor move from a prison cell to a more productive life and it happened; His hand was there, all along the way.  Then, I was reminded to go back into prisons to share my faith and again, God moved and a young man, once sentenced to die, is now awaiting his release and return to life on this side of the walls.  And I still weep that in this nation, known among many as a Christian nation, we still do not seem to understand, that He loves the incarcerated as well as those who live righteous lives and regards freedom as a blessing to be shared by all of His creation.  We have much work to do in this area.

The seventh Commandment;  "You shall not commit adultery."   Hughes steps aside for a moment and offers the following counsel by a Sociologist, Morton Hunt.  "The disapproved model (polygamy) seems better suited to the emotional capacities and requirements for many people, particularly men; it offers renewal, excitement and continuance of expressions of personal rediscovery; it is an answer to the boredom of of lifelong monogamy.  We are by nature polygamous."  That was written in 1969.  Can you grasp all that is written and shouted from the roof tops of the thousands of media outlets in our nation today with regard to marital infidelity? Polygamy now appears to be the norm.  And we are given the task of raising our children in a pig pen, sexually speaking.  "Shall not..." is laughed at.  Yet, the word of God, throughout the Ten Commandments, are as applicable today as they were in the Garden.  But in our ignorance, we move on as if sexual immorality will somehow pass away.  The fact is that the debris left behind by this flaunting of the word of God staggers one's imagination.  The unwanted children. the costs of divorce - lawyers, investigators, court costs, etc., etc., the costs of abortions, the needs for psychiatric counselling, etc., etc.  An answer?  Not too complex.  Refer to the very first Commandment.

The eighth Commandment:  'You shall not steal."   "Well," my friend offered one day, "I do not steal so I don't even have to think about that."  "Yes, I know," was my response, "Except that a further examination of the scriptures will remind you that you are your brother's brother."  Stealing is easy, I learned from an early age.  It started with change from my grandfather's pocket; then comic books from the 5 and 10 cent stores and one day, I was caught.  In the meantime, however, I had shared my "sins" with other boys and eventually, we were all caught.  Some got whippings; I discovered that my grandfather had a side of him I had never seen.  I was about to learn more about righteous anger.  It was not about the change, nor the paper backs.  I had lost his respect - for the moment.  Then, came the more important discovery, he forgave me and the burden I had carried for days was suddenly lifted.   I never forgot that lesson and when I was personally violated by others - as happens, I began to use my grandfather's example.  Righteous anger has an effect, but not nearly the impact of sharing the power of forgiveness.  To make a person laugh is one quality, but it ranks far below the act of forgiving a person whose "sin" had become a burden.

The ninth Commandment:  "Thou shalt not give false testimony against your neighbor."  The question that plagues so many these days ought to be - "Is truth relevant?"   Or perhaps, "Who is my neighbor?"   For many of us, these are uneasy times.  The Congress of the United States having had to deal with President Obama for six years appear to be willing to be less than truthful in their criticisms of the President's policies that have included, of course, errors in judgement in some cases, But then, the record is quite clear, he dug our way out of one of the worst economic crises our nation has ever known.  Who knows the truth, the whole truth?  Nothing but the truth appears to have become passe in dealing with political matters.  But such attitudes are also rampant on our streets. The stories we hear about the "disgrace" of many of our politicians come and go without a murmur. Worse, we seem to be headed for an all out religious war between the Muslims on one hand and many American Christians.  We may need a new definition of exactly who is our "neighbor".

The tenth Commandment:  "Thou shall not covet."   My first car was one that I bought off of a car lot in Pensacola, FL.  If you have never bought a used car, you missed a terrific opportunity to learn about life.  To youngsters, as I was on that hot afternoon, you begin to think all of your best laid plans were about to evaporate and that salesman was as mean as a snake, but the truth is, he was merely making sure that you were the kind of person who would continue to make payments.  It is one of the thousands of reasons, God does not want us to "want" things that are beyond our capacity to pay for them. It is too bad that this Commandment was not fully understood in the days before our economy began to expand to include the possibility that even the "average" person could "afford" the best. One of the best measures of covetous in our nation today can be found in our Sunday newspapers. The merchants are eager to sell their wares and could care less that they are prompting others to covet and since we do not take this - and other commandments, seriously, our society often appears to be seriously flawed.

And worse, just because we now live is well defined neighborhoods in most of our major cities, we are no longer inclined to acknowledge those behind the ominous walls and - as a result, we don't even seem to want to accept them as our neighbors.

God's Grace defined by our response to the Ten Commandments provides for all of us who consider ourselves to be Christian, an opportunity to examine all that it means to be Christian.  Certainly, it is more than just a free ticket to avoid the horrors of Hell.

My thought is that we do well by living, Grace fully!

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