Tuesday, March 31, 2009

But God . . .

Grace. Is that a concept that you completely understand? I’m pretty sure that I don’t fully understand it nor regularly practice it.
We are sometimes “merciful,” or “compassionate,” or “benevolent,” or “empathetic,” or “forgiving.” But something as pure and loving and undeserving as “grace” – can it ever be demonstrated by anyone but God?
Nevertheless, that little phrase “but God” seems to help me get a slightly better grip on the concept of “grace.” Because throughout the history of man, due to the condition of man’s heart and the choices he has made, he has been headed toward certain (and deserved) destruction. He has set himself on the path toward desolation, doom, and death.
But God has stepped in. But God has intervened. But God has changed everything.
Just a few instances of that include:
BUT GOD sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. Genesis 45:7
BUT GOD does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Samuel 14:14
BUT GOD will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Psalm 49:15
BUT GOD demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. Ephesians 2:4 (NLT)
When man has fouled things up and set definite consequences in motion - God has repeatedly turned the tables. He has reversed our fortunes over and over. Time after time He has removed what we deserved, and replaced it with something we couldn’t possibly earn.
I was born with a nature that sought only my own way; I made choices that considered only me; I wanted to be in charge. But God . . .
My heart was hard and closed; I needed to change and couldn’t. But God . . .
I had done so much that I couldn’t fix; I owed so much and I couldn’t pay. But God . . .
I was a lost cause. But God . . .

But God . . . poured out His grace.
God poured out His grace to me, on me, and through me.
And just like the internet, the internal combustion engine, photosynthesis, or my cell phone – I don’t have to fully understand ‘grace’ to take full advantage of it. Since I couldn’t earn His grace, and I can’t alter His grace, and I can’t lose His grace, even though I may not completely understand it I am left with the obvious choice of savoring His grace.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

But for the grace of God,
Craig Hollingsworth

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


When pushed out of an airplane, do you know what an agnostic, an atheist, a Jew, and a Christian all have in common? That’s right – each one will scream, “OH MY GOD!”
We are exposed to that expression every single day in almost every area of our lives. Some folks use the phrase as if it were a single word – “omagod.” Millions of people use the ‘instant messaging’ abbreviation ‘OMG.’ Still others will insert deliberate pauses for dramatic effect – “Oh . . . . My . . . Gawd!”
I heard the phrase repeatedly during a recent ski trip: teenage girls couldn’t speak two sentences without the phrase; inexperienced skiers used the phrase to express trepidation about a difficult-looking slope; snow boarders passed judgment on a particular run with the phrase. While the ‘Pharisee’ in me (which lurks just below the surface and is always eager to show itself) would be quick to condemn such off-handed, irreverent, and vain uses of the phrase, that is not the purpose of this piece.
No – my recent ‘overload’ exposure to the “Oh my God” phrase instead got me thinking about those ‘revelation’ moments in the Bible when particular humans came to the stark realization of just exactly Who the Most High actually is, especially in relation to who they were. Some of those truly “Oh my God” moments included:
● Isaiah’s vision, where he saw the Almighty One and knew how unworthy he was to be in His presence: "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)
● Moses’ experience at the burning bush: At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:6)
● When ‘Doubting’ Thomas put his finger into the hole in Jesus’ hand and his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side: Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28)
● Peter’s reaction after the miraculous catch of fish: [H]e fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8)
● The prophet Ezra’s exclamation: O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. (Ezra 9:6)

Those men saw at least a portion of Who God really is – in relation to themselves - in those “Oh my God” moments.

He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Everything!
He is so holy, righteous, pure, and perfect that we cannot even fathom the extent of those qualities as they apply to Him. Our absolute best is as “filthy rags” compared to Him. (Isaiah 64:6)
His might and power are matchless and limitless.
He is Who He says He is; and He does what He says He’ll do.

And He says He loves us. He says He’s redeemed us. He says that He has prepared a place for us and that we’ll spend eternity with Him there.
I believe Him.
So, rather than chastising those who may say “Oh my God” flippantly or inappropriately . . . . From now on, whenever I hear that phrase, I am going to try to redirect my focus on Who my God really is. Regardless of what someone else may intend when they say “Oh my God,” I want to have the same revelation that Isaiah, Moses, Thomas, Peter, and Ezra had. I want to be in that place of true worship where I can commune with His Spirit as I humbly confess, “Oh my God!”

Reveling in His revelation,
Craig Hollingsworth

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Only Policy

“To be completely honest with you, . . .”
“The truth of the matter is . . .”
“Quite honestly, . . .”

Have you noticed how often people use those phrases? Hopefully, using such a phrase is more of a habit than an indication that everything else that person says is either patently false or at least an exaggeration of some kind. Should we just not believe anything someone says unless they first preface it with a declaration of ‘truthfulness?’
Whether someone says “honestly” before a statement or not, every day I find myself being bombarded by lies, dishonesty, and implications that are intended to get me to reach a false conclusion without actually stating a falsehood. And it’s usually about stuff that doesn’t even matter!
Every day we tell people: "Nice to see you" (but it wasn’t); "Sorry I missed your call" (even though it was intentional); "I got stuck in traffic" (Ha!); "Our server was down" (meaning – “I just didn’t get around to your project”); "The check's in the mail" (but don’t hold your breath); "I've got another call beeping in” (because I’m done here); "No, it doesn’t make your butt look big” (that extra bowl of ice cream is what makes your butt look big!).
People who consider themselves “honest” don’t seem to even think twice about some of the things they say, even though they have to know those things are not true. And there are all kinds of supposed “justifications” for being dishonest – it’s easier, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, it keeps us out of trouble, it makes us look better. But since it’s just a “little white lie,” it doesn’t really matter, right?

It would appear to me that most people take the exact opposite approach of the Bible when it comes to ‘honesty.’ Most people seem to think that their honesty is shown in the ‘big stuff’ – they don’t cheat on their wife; they haven’t embezzled money from their employer; they haven’t faked a worker’s comp claim; and they haven’t been caught up in an FBI sting operation.
But are people more “honest” in those situations because of their ‘moral compass,’ or because they’re afraid to get caught, people may see them, such actions are more detectable, the stakes are higher, or maybe they’re afraid God will smite them for it? In other words, do they do the ‘right thing’ because it’s the ‘right thing,’ or do they do the ‘right thing’ because they’re afraid to do the ‘wrong thing?’
Most people seem to think that with those ‘little white lies’ it’s no big deal even if they get caught – “no harm, no foul,” right? But with the ‘big stuff’ - you’ve gotta be careful – it gets risky and costly.
But, that’s not the approach the Bible takes. Instead, the Bible teaches us: If you're honest in small things, you'll be honest in big things. (Luke 16:10, MSG)
That tells me that even if I appear to be ‘squeaky clean’ with regard to the ‘big stuff,’ when I am not truthful in the smallest of things I am shown to be dishonest – big time, through-and-through. That’s completely contrary to most things in life which are more difficult the bigger and more important they are. Instead, honesty is really more difficult in the little stuff – the stuff we think doesn’t matter – than with the big stuff (where fear of getting caught may keep us ‘honest’).
Another really difficult part of “being honest in the small things” is that it doesn’t apply to just the actual telling of bald-faced lies. Telling a cook that she’s “really out-done herself” on a meal you can hardly choke down leaves a false impression that is dishonest. And a lie is a lie regardless of the best intentions (not to offend, to save feelings, etc.).
The Bible doesn’t give us license to lash out or hurt feelings in the name of “truth” or “honesty.” But it does tell us that the One who really matters will judge our trustworthiness for big things (in His kingdom) by how trustworthy we are in small things. So, Who are we really seeking to please?
Trustworthiness in the big stuff will take care of itself IF we are really trustworthy in the small stuff. It’s simple, but not easy.
We have all heard that ‘honesty is the best policy,’ but I tend to think that honesty should be the only policy. With God’s help, we can live in a way that makes honesty a lifestyle, rather than a choice.

The LORD detests lying lips,
but he delights in men who are truthful.

(Proverbs 12:22)

Craig Hollingsworth