God’s New Years Resolutions

I understand that God never changes, and that his plan dates back to eternity past. In that sense, the turning of our earthly year means nothing to “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). However, I also understand that God is gracious enough to stoop down and describe himself in human terms; this helps our puny brains keep up with him.

In that spirit, I humbly offer a dozen of God’s New Years Resolutions, followed by my single New Years Resolution at the end.

God says… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to bless you better than you deserve. I don’t give paychecks for your good behavior; I give blessings because of Christ’s perfect behavior. You didn’t earn it; he did. My hand will supply more than you’ll ever realize.
  2. I RESOLVE to continue seeing you just as I see my son, Jesus. You’ve been joined to Christ, and as I label him, so I label you: beautiful, accepted, holy, pure, my child, spiritual royalty, complete.
  3. I RESOLVE to carry you safely through another year. I didn’t bring you this far to let you down now. Great is my faithfulness. I’ve got your hand and won’t let go.
  4. I RESOLVE to never throw your sins and failures back in your face. All your sin and shame was washed away once for all in the flood of Calvary Love. There’s no going back.
  5. I RESOLVE to continue loving you, even when you don’t love me back. I never loved you because of who and what you are or do anyway; my love flows for you because I AM love. I’m glad if you love me back, but never forget the biggest deal of all is that I love you and sent my Son for you (1 John 4:10).
  6. I RESOLVE to keep you safely wrapped in the bubble of eternal salvation. You may see a swarm of worrisome giants on the horizon in this coming year; but losing your salvation shouldn’t be one of them. You are mine. Bank on it.
  7. I RESOLVE to punch the devil and his minions in their ugly little noses as soon as they try to get close to you. You have no idea how many times I shield you each and every day — don’t worry, I won’t stop. And I will “crush Satan under your foot shortly” (Romans 16:20).
  8. I RESOLVE to surprise you with goodness you never saw coming. Your joy is my delight. If a fallen, broken-down race like yours finds joy in surprising your kids with good things, how much more does your Heavenly Father love to give good gifts to his children too!
  9. I RESOLVE to remain the same, yesterday, today, and forever, so you never have to wonder who you’re dealing with. I’m unchanging, and never fickle. As I loved my son, Jesus, so also I will love you forever and ever. You can count on me.
  10. I RESOLVE to keep furnishing your mansion in heaven. Even the tiniest faith in time creates extravagant supply in eternity. Your deepest heartaches will one day fade into oblivion, in the light of eternal joys.  You should see the design I have for you… you’re going to love it!
  11. I RESOLVE to draw close to you in your tough times. You never walk alone. No matter where you turn or what you do this year, I’ll be right there with you. You can’t shake me. I’m happily stuck with you.
  12. I RESOLVE to never shut off the lavish flow of grace coming your way. Even if you’re an idiot. Even if you turn your back on me. Even if anything. Trust me… This is going to be a great year!

So here’s my one and only New Resolution:

I say… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to rest my heart and life more fully in the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God. “For it is good that the heart be established by grace…” (Hebrews 13:9).[Using the share buttons below makes you extra awesome! Thanks.]

 

GR Combo reduced[If you want to dig more deeply into the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God, check out Grace Rehab: The Power of Labeling Yourself the Way God Labels You, with a companion STUDY GUIDE, both on Amazon at www.GraceRehab.net ]

Advertisements

Grace Rehab

Introducing GRACE REHAB

GR Combo reducedMeet Grace Rehab, my latest book, and follow up to Grace Intervention.  I’d also like you to meet the Grace Rehab Study Guide, a companion book for groups or personal reflection. Since every author feels like their books are their babies, I’m excited for you to meet my latest.  I think this will give you a good idea of what’s inside.

From the Back Cover: 

You’re stupid. Ugly. Too short, tall, skinny, fat, dark, light, slow. You’ll never amount to anything.  you don’t measure up. You’re nothing. not good enough. I don’t way you. You’re a failure. Damaged goods. Dirty. Loser. Pervert. Unholy. Bad. 

Ouch! There are as many labels as there are abusive parents, schoolyard bullies, mean girls, and self-righteous preachers to slap them on you.

The two most important labels in your life are how you label yourself and how you label God. These labels create self-fulfilling prophecies. They determine how you relate to yourself, to others, and to God.

Who Are YouThe good news is that God stands ready to peel away a lifetime of demeaning labels. He wants to label you the exact same way he labels Jesus: Beautiful. Accepted. Beloved. Righteous. Powerful. Good.

In GRACE REHAB, Bill Giovannetti guides you through a total transformation of your inner labels. With humor and insight, he explores 17 Riches in Christ to help you shed your self-defeating labels and embrace with confidence the joyful person you were meant to be.

Also available: the GRACE REHAB STUDY GUIDE, with questions for personal reflection and group interaction, wherever books are sold.

From the Dedication: 

This book is dedicated to every survivor, every courageous soul, and every hero wiling to resist the world’s bullies, mean girls, abusers, users, exploiters, and unloving parents.

It is for every person who refuses to be a victim.

For all those struggling to shed the demeaning labels of the past.

For those great ones fighting to name themselves as God names them.

You inspire me.

You inspire us all.

Grace Rehab Table of Contents: 

CONTENTS (212 pages)

PART ONE: I Am in Christ…

  1. Labels
  2. Definitions
  3. Union
  4. Seed
  5. Identity
  6. Rehab

PART TWO: In Christ, I Am…

  1. New Family TreeI Am Forgiven
  2. I Am Justified
  3. I Am Reconciled
  4. I Am Adopted
  5. I Am Accepted
  6. I Am Redeemed
  7. I Am Blessed
  8. I Have An Advocate
  9. I Have Access
  10. I Am Complete In Him
  11. I Have Power
  12. I Have Dominion
  13. I Have a Superpower
  14. I Am Delivered from Darkness
  15. I Am An Heir of God
  16. I Am Being Sanctified
  17. I Am In Christ

Endnotes

Grace Rehab Study Guide Table of Contents: 

CONTENTS (104 pages)

PART ONE: I Am in Christ…

  1. Labels
  2. Definitions
  3. Union
  4. Seed
  5. Identity
  6. Rehab

PART TWO: In Christ, I Am…

  1. sample 23I Am Forgiven
  2. I Am Justified
  3. I Am Reconciled
  4. I Am Adopted
  5. I Am Accepted
  6. I Am Redeemed
  7. I Am Blessed
  8. I Have An Advocate
  9. I Have Access
  10. I Am Complete In Him
  11. I Have Power
  12. I Have Dominion
  13. I Have a Superpower
  14. I Am Delivered from Darkness
  15. I Am An Heir of God
  16. sample 24I Am Being Sanctified
  17. I Am In Christ
  18. My Daily Grace Rehab Prayer

BONUS MATERIALS

Grace Rehab Glossary
Bonus Chapter: I Am An Ambassador/Study Guide
How to Be Saved

 

 You can pick up copies here:
Click: Directly from the Author (signed copies)
Click: On Amazon
Ask your local bookseller
Sharing is appreciated using the buttons below.

 

Fifty Shades of No Way

The movie version of runaway best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey will soon hit the big screen. The movie, like the book, treads where only fallen angels dare to go: themes of sexual bondage, domination, and sado-masochism (BDSM). The Fifty Shades book series sold over 100 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 52 languages. The writing is generally considered marginal to poor, so there must be some other draw.

I wonder what that might be.

I have not read the books, I will not see the movie, and I urge you to spend your entertainment dollars elsewhere. This is not about picketing, boycotting, or trampling freedom of expression.

It’s about protecting your own soul from harm.

By playing fast and loose with sexuality, our culture has trapped itself in a bondage it never saw coming: a weakened ability to form lasting bonds of affection.

God designed you for bonding — to form emotional/spiritual attachments that bring a sense of love, acceptance, knowing, camaraderie, and support into your life. Dogs are world-champion bonders. They bond through touch, play, sight, sound, proximity, smell. What self-respecting canine wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep on his best-friend’s dirty socks? Every time you walk in the door, there’s your mutt, beside himself with joy, renewing the bond, and ensuring your friendship stays tight.

Anyone who’s lost a dog knows the pain of that broken bond.

Bonds that form slowly go deepest. The Bible says, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection [spiritual maturity]” (Colossians 3:14, NKJV). This well-bonded love comes last. It’s the capstone of all other virtues. A mature bond forms last, at the end of a long process, and it holds the tightest. Those old married couples who still hold hands show the power of a lifetime bond. They’ve been through everything. They’ve argued their arguments. They’ve fought over money and kids and open toilet seats. Their bond has prevailed, for better or worse. To see a well-bonded couple like this is to see humanity’s finest hour. The bond has aged to ripe perfection. Slowly. Over time.

I am a grace-guy. I’m all for personal liberty under the wide open skies of amazing grace. I’m a do-what-you-want, follow your heart, walk with God and be free kind of guy. I continually fight my urge to judge others. So I’m not writing to judge or damn anybody here. I’m writing to encourage you — and the people I pastor — to deeper dimensions of grace, especially in this arena of sexual bonding.

Movies and books like Fifty Shades of Grey will not only damage your bond, they will damage your ABILITY to bond.

Every time you make and then break a bond, it’s harder to bond the next time. Like repeatedly attaching, and then ripping off, a bandage, sooner or later, the thing stops sticking. The trauma of repeatedly tearing apart bonds can result in attachment disorders, isolation, intimacy problems, and all kinds of heart-breaking patterns. You cross legitimate boundaries, feel the pain of it, excuse yourself, and ultimately become numb to it. You need ever-increasing stimulation for ever-diminishing returns. It takes more effort to achieve less satisfaction. Once you tear down the boundaries that protect your bond, you become vulnerable. You open yourself to wounds. You invite pain.

Protect your heart.

Protect your spouse’s heart. If you’re single, protect your own heart, and that of the person you or the other might someday marry.

You’ve been given this precious machinery of bonding. You possess this miraculous engine of attachment. Don’t break it. Don’t numb it.

The acts related to physical intimacy produce life’s fastest bonds. In God’s design, you bond mentally and emotionally first, then get to the chapel and get married, and then consummate your bond physically.

Why that order? Because God loves you too much to let you run down paths that will break your heart. Physical bonding works best in an atmosphere of exclusivity and lifetime commitment. Anything else leads to needless drama and lots of tears.

Fifty Shades of Grey is porn. Plus, it associates pain with pleasure — so it’s a double whammy. It will introduce images into your mind you won’t be able to erase. It will stimulate desires your spouse may not be interested in. It will cause comparisons that will only make you and your spouse feel inferior. It will judge you and your “lame” sex life as bland. It will damage your bond. It will damage your ability to maintain your bond. It will throw a wrench into that finely tuned engine of bonding that is the human spirit. It will bring other people into your marital bed through images you’ll find hard to erase. It will dilute your exclusive bond with your spouse — or, to use another word — it will adulterate your bond. To adulterate wine is to water it down. To adulterate a marital bond is to water it down by bringing in any other partner, even in the imagination (Matthew 5:28).

Strong bonds require focus. Ask your dog.

The more partners you have — whether physically or mentally — the harder it’s going to be to erase the others and focus on “the one.”

Broken bonds haunt you.

Even imaginary ones. Some things just can’t be unseen, even with God’s grace. To see this movie, or to read this book, is to turn your back to grace. You lose.

Can there be healing? Yes. Without doubt. Can there be forgiveness, restoration, and rehab? Yes. God’s grace is never out of reach. God’s redemptive grace goes clear down to your sexuality (John 8:11). But the emotional pain of distorted sexuality is still pain. Why choose it on purpose?

Grace provides supernatural power to resist temptation. Calvary-Love offers you a better way of life. Grace offers a satisfaction the world’s counterfeits can’t touch.

I think the question Christians need to ask themselves is simple: Is the grace of God enough? Can I find happiness and love and all that my heart cries out for by laying hold of God’s grace or not? Scripture paints a beautiful picture of a husband and wife as, “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Heirs together — like millionaires without a care in the world. The grace of life — the most satisfying life with the most wonderful person you can imagine, as a by-product of God’s amazing grace.

Fifty Shades of Grey will deface that picture with a bucket of pain disguised as guilty pleasure.

Go out to a fancy dinner instead, order a nice wine, and actually talk about things you both care about.

Or just take the dog for a nice, long walk.

Grace Intervention Study Guide

Here’s a study guide for my latest book, GRACE INTERVENTION. This study guide provides questions for group interaction or personal reflection. It’s printable and it’s free. A great resource for your church, small group, youth group, or retreat.

How about a Grace Intervention for yourself, your church, and your friends?

Click the picture to start the free download.

Grace Intervention Discussion

Three Myths about Grace

freight-train-rail-photo-0002

1980s: How are you doing? Fine, thank you.

1990s: How are you doing? Great.

2000s: How are you doing? Awesome!

2010s: How are you doing? Epic!!!!!!!

Over time, words lose their meaning. Like cars hooked together on a train, words carry freight. That freight consists of meaning and emotion (denotation and connotation, to be showy). Apparently, for some words, the freight leaks out. We use and overuse words to the point they have little meaning. If you tell me your day has been awesome or epic, I am sure you mean neither “that which produces jaw-dropping awe mingled with dread at powers beyond comprehension” or “worthy of universal acclaim and a big fat book like the Odyssey.” What you mean is “fine,” as our grandparents would say.

Word deflation. Continue reading

Legalism’s Knockout Blow, pt 1

An Unusual Interpretation of the Day Jacob Wrestled God

Jacob-Wrestles-with-God

“We tried to get into your church, but the ushers wouldn’t let us in.” Two high school girls from my youth group berated themselves for not following my church’s unspoken rules. “Some men at the door told us we couldn’t wear shorts in church. We’re soooo sorry!”

The vein in my left temple throbbed as I told them I was the one who should be sorry. Our youth group had been praying for two seventeen-year old girls who had just joined the group and had never attended church anywhere. They came—on a hot, muggy Chicago Sunday. Two ushers-turned-bouncers stopped them dead. “Oh no. You can’t come into church looking like that.”

The girls turned away crestfallen, and told me their story at youth group. They blamed themselves. They felt guilty for not measuring up to God’s standards.

Score one for legalism.

Anthony snorted and laughed out loud during my sermon, and later apologized for disrupting the service. He reacted to my mention of a chapel in Italy that contained the Scala Sancta. The “Sacred Stairs” were reported to be the very steps on which Jesus climbed to stand trial before Pilate. As the story goes, St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, commanded them dismantled, shipped to Italy, and reassembled in Rome.

I explained that, for centuries, faithful pilgrims climbed up those stone stairs on aching knees, pausing to pray on each of twenty-eight marble steps. To this day, no one may stand on the Scala Sancta. Pilgrims climb up on their knees, and exit via another stairway on their feet. For this act of contrition, penitents are promised a plenary indulgence—full pardon from the temporal punishments due all unrecompensed sins to date.

That’s when Anthony snorted. He later explained that he’d grown up in Italy, and his grandmother made him climb the Scala Sancta every week. He told how she stood by weeping, wringing her hands, and praying for his eternal soul.

I admire her dedication, but can’t agree with her theology. Score another one for legalism.

Every Christian is a recovering legalist. We come from a long line of legalists, all the way back to Adam and Eve who sewed fig leaves to cover their shame. Instead of approaching God as empty-handed charity-cases, legalists approach him as religious success-stories who, through their hard work and sacrifice, have earned a spiritual paycheck. “Come on, God. Pay up.”

God has a way of knocking the legalism right out of us.

Case in point, Jacob. Genesis 32 tells the strange story of his wrestling match with God. Is it true that we must win a contest with God before he gives us what we need and want? Or is this story a biblical case-study on God’s way of delivering a knock-out blow to legalism? Let’s see.

The Context: A Personal Judgment Day

Jacob is about to collide with the brother he cheated years ago. He’s frantic, thinking Esau is out for blood. He dreads the heavy hammer of retributive justice – well-deserved – and scrambles for a solution.

He does so in a schizophrenic way. His first approach to deliverance is through grace. In v. 9, he appeals to the goodness of God, who “promised to prosper” him. The Hebrew word tob, translated “prosper” refers to God’s settled disposition to do good this his people.  Then, in v. 10, he confesses, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness [hesed] and the faithfulness you have shown your servant…” The word hesed refers to God’s policy of bestowing benefits on those who don’t deserve them and haven’t earned them. Hesed is a part of the Hebrew vocabulary of grace. Jacob prays a grace-based prayer.

Too bad he didn’t stick with grace. Jacob immediately shifted into legalism mode and, by his actions, undercut everything he just prayed.

The Human Solution: Paying the Price Ourselves

Jacob’s second approach to deliverance is through blatant bribery. He sent ahead treasure-laden caravans to buy his brother’s forgiveness. He offered goats, camels, rams, bulls, and donkeys.

We might laugh now, but how many times have we done the same thing? How many times have we sought divine deliverance through caravans of offerings, rituals, good behaviors, self-sacrifice, and religiosity? How many times have we expected God to answer our prayers on account of a week’s good behavior? Every time we try to pay our way out of judgment or into a blessing, haven’t we stepped into Jacob’s dusty sandals?

Legalism thrives in the dank atmosphere of self-atonement. We may not climb up stairs on our knees, and we may not believe in religious penance, but legalism degrades our Christian walk into a moment-by-moment penance. We so easily take onto our shoulders the hulking burden of paying for guilt—a burden than only Jesus Christ can and did bear in full on Calvary’s cross.

I’ve been a Christian for decades, yet still I catch myself undercutting the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. I know it’s stupid, but I have a mental closet crammed with fig-leaf garments I’ve sewn together to cover my guilt and shame. The essence of legalism is humans by human effort seeking to merit the blessing of God.

It’s time for God’s loving whack upside Jacob’s legalistic head.

The Encounter: Wrestling with God

Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.

Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.

Should we wrestle God for answers to our prayers? What was Jacob thinking? What do you think God was thinking? What have you heard about this story? How has it been interpreted for you? 

(Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 2)

“But God…” A Dozen Reversals of Life’s Heartaches, pt 2

jm_100_OT_-P17.tiff

Fussy grammarians identify the word “BUT” as an adversative conjunction; something like the word “and” with a contrary attitude. When a decent “but” drops into a sentence, it turns the world upside down. How true, especially when the “but” unveils a divine operation — a heaven-sent miracle for life’s darkest hour.

This crabby but beautiful adversative conjunction invites your faith in a God who is the adversary of all that breaks your heart.

Today’s post is part two from an earlier post which you may find here. I hope you find comfort, strength, peace, and hope in a half dozen more “BUT GODS.”

  1. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV). As the argument goes here, you might help out a friend; you might do something good for a decent human being. We find it far easier to help a person who is decent, thrifty, brave, and clean. BUT GOD is different. He embraces us with a love that knows now bounds when we are at our worst. While we were still sinners — moral train wrecks, fallen, helpless, and still shaking our collective fist in his face — the Son of God paid the ultimate sacrifice by shedding his precious blood on Calvary’s hill. He did not fold his arms and wait till we had our act together. Christ died for us, God proved his love for us, and the invitation to heaven’s banquet was sent to us long before we ever deserved it. But God…
  2. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV). The earliest Christian churches weren’t pretty. They attracted society’s lower classes — not many mighty, not many wealthy, not many educated saints sang the praises of God. From all outward appearances, Christianity was a rag-tag assemblage of life’s last in line. The upper-crust occupants of Downton Abbey would look down their patrician noses and scoff. Who are these rabble? Must they be so noisy? What do they matter? BUT GOD delights in choosing life’s B-Team and using us to turn the world upside down. It is not the size of your portfolio, but the quality of your heart, that puts a smile on the face of God. Not your social rank, not your Klout score, not your Amazon ranking, and not an elite pedigree that fits you for service to the kingdom of God. It is your humble receipt of grace and your glorious identity in Christ that chases away the devil’s darkness and makes the angels stand and cheer.
  3. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV). This is one of my favorite verses. No matter what adversities assail you, God is faithful. The night may be dark, the wait may be long, the news may be bad, the hope may unravel, BUT GOD will never let you go. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  4. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:18, NKJV). Hi. My name is Bill and I am a recovering legalist. Having spent half my life straining every fiber to measure up to God’s impossible demands, I so love the reversal in this verse. At question is the nature of God’s way of granting heaven’s immeasurably rich inheritance to God’s people: how does this happen? What is the nature of our great salvation? Paul offers only two choices: law or promise. These two choices determine the human response. If God offers salvation based on law, then the response must be obedience, compliance with the laws of God. If that’s the case, bend over backwards and kiss heaven’s inheritance goodbye; you’ve already screwed it up. BUT GOD offers salvation, not as a law to obey, but as a PROMISE. How do you respond when a promise is made? Simply BELIEVE. Your legalistic demons may peck you into bondage and despair, BUT GOD will keep his promise: he will save you freely and forever based on the finished work of Jesus Christ if you will only believe.
  5. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (Ephesians 2:4, NKJV). Spiritual corpses, sinful, seized by diabolical forces beyond our control, slaves to lust and passion, and “children of wrath…” That is our dossier, by nature, before the court of heaven. The slimy pit of human depravity offers no escape. Any right-thinking judge, any decent, self-respecting God, would hurl javelins of judgment our way without batting an eye. Condemnation is our due. BUT GOD, who is rich him mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It just doesn’t get better than that. Thank God for the shed blood of Christ!
  6. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV). “Image is everything.” “It’s not the truth that matters, but the perception of truth.” Every day we swim in a sea of philosophical sharks ready to shred our hope, our self-esteem, and the deepest truths about who we are in Christ. Religious pretense. Social climbing. Outward conformity to the peer group. Fit in. Be cool. Dress just right. The world’s philosophies will squeeze you into a mold that can only lead to the death of your dreams and a cold and bitter heart. The world says we must boast in our conformity to its death-dealing system. BUT GOD opens a way of escape, inviting us to glory in the Cross of Christ, to stand secure in the robes of righteousness, to rest in the grip of his hand, and to wait for his glorious appearance. Your search for significance is over — you have found it in the approval of God gained once for all by the matchless grace of the Cross.

Please click the share buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Thanks. 

How has God reversed your fortunes? Are there any BUT GOD moments, big or small, you can point to? You can encourage us all in the comments below. 

Grace Words in the Old Testament

13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. (Joel 2:13, NKJV).

joel213This is one of my favorite Old Testament verses. It not only turns around a chapter and a half of unpleasantness, it does so by clumping together the almost the whole constellation of Hebrew words for grace. How cool is that, all here in one verse!  Let me introduce you to the core grace vocabulary in the Old Testament.

GRACIOUS… Hebrew words… hanan (verb), hanun (adjective), hen (noun “hayn”).  Make the “h” rough, like you’re clearing your throat.  This word conveys the feeling of having compassion on a begger, or of doing something nice for the ill-deserving.  I love this word, because it is part of my last name: Giovannetti. The Hebrew name, Johannan (notice the last part), comes into Italian as Giovanni (Gaelic = Siobahn, Scandinavian = Johann, English = John — that’s why the “h” is there).  The first part, Gio, refers to Jehovah or Yahweh, the LORD.  The second part, hanan, tells us he’s gracious.  The hen, hanan word group is all over the Old Testament.

  • Ge 6:8* But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
  • Ps 84:11* For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.
  • Pr 3:34* Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble.
  • Jer 31:2* Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword Found grace in the wilderness– Israel, when I went to give him rest.”
  • Zec 12:10* “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
  • Isa 30:18* Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.
  • Isa 30:19* For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; You shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; When He hears it, He will answer you.
  • Jon 4:2* So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

MERCIFUL… Hebrew word… racham (noun), rachum (adjective)… (again, clear your throat in the middle, and accent the last syllable… rah-CHAHM).  God’s tender mercies; that God feels compassion for us in the pit of his stomach. I know it’s an anthropomorphism, so work with me.  The tender-hearted compassion of God. The mercies of God toward the pathetic, wretched, and miserable. You can’t go far in the Old Testament without bumping into the tender mercies of God.

  • 18 “O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. (Daniel 9:18, NKJV).
  • 2Sa 24:14* And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
  • Ne 9:19* Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.
  • Ps 25:6* Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old.
  • Ps 119:77* Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight.
  • Isa 63:15* Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained?
  • La 3:22* Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.
  • Da 9:18* “O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.

SLOW TO ANGER… roughly prounounced, air-ek uh-PIE-yim. It means “long of nose” which itself means having a very long fuse.  Let’s just mark it down that when judgment occurs in the Old Testament, it is long overdue.  Had God not been slow of anger, he would have blasted the relevant person long ago. But he waits and waits and waits and waits, giving us every opportunity to turn to his grace. With God, you get three strikes, and then three more, and three more, and three more… seventy times seven… and only then are you out. The basis of this longsuffering in God is the work of Christ on Calvary. We’d have no hope if God had a quick trigger finger!

  • 17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17, NKJV).
  • Jon 4:2* So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
  • Na 1:3* The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, And the clouds are the dust of His feet.
  • Ps 103:8* The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
  • Ps 145:8* The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.

GREAT KINDNESS: Hebrew word… hesed (clear your throat on the initial “h” and accent the first syllable… HEH-sed).  You might see it transliterated as chesed or checed, but those reminde me of “cheesehead” and I can’t stand the Packers, so I skip the c. The adjective “great” translates the Hebrew word rab (rahv), which means “a whole lot of it.”  God has a whole lot of hesed. An infinite storehouse. Here is the central word in the Old Testament for the freely given lovingkindness in the heart of God. We get hesed, not because we deserve it, but because he gives it freely out of his own character.  I think the old King James Bible translators actually coined the term “lovingkindess” for this word (not sure, though). It’s my all time favorite Bible word, and it’s EVERYWHERE in the Old Testament. Hesed emphasizes the UMERITED quality of God’s grace. He is infinitely more committed to you than you will ever be to him. Hesed is easy to overlook, because it is translated by so many different words.  I’ll underline them below (except “lovingkindness” which I think is always hesed).

  • 27 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” (Genesis 24:27, NKJV).
  • Ps 17:7* Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them.
    Ps 26:3* For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth.
    Ps 36:7* How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
    Ps 36:10* Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
    Ps 40:10* I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth From the great assembly.
    Ps 40:11* Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
    Ps 42:8* The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me– A prayer to the God of my life.
    Ps 48:9* We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, In the midst of Your temple.
    Ps 51:1* <<To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.>> Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
    Ps 63:3* Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.
    Ps 69:16* Hear me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
  • 3 The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3, NKJV).
  • 12 Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. (Genesis 24:12, NKJV).
  • 10 Then he said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. (Ruth 3:10, NKJV).
  • 3 Then the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” (2 Samuel 9:3, NKJV).
  • Isa 54:8* With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness (hesed) I will have mercy (racham) on you,” Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
  • Isa 54:10* For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the LORD, who has mercy (racham) on you.

One more word for today, and we have to go outside our Joel verse for it, but that’s okay…

LOVE… Hebrew word… ahab (a-HAHV). It’s a grace word, so let’s include it.

  • 15 “The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 10:15, NKJV).
  • 7 “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; 8 “but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8, NKJV).
  • 12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:12, NKJV).
  • 9 “Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9, NKJV).

THE MORAL OF THE STORY… never again say that we find law in the Old Testament and grace in the New.  The whole Bible is the testament of God’s grace.

Okay, it is now 5:30 am, and I’m going back to bed for a quick nap before I start my day.

Whew…

prisonersI open my eyes and look around when I need to shake loose of a bad dream. I see from Scripture that God can communicate through dreams, though I don’t think that all dreams are from God. Many, most in fact, come from our soul working out its unresolved issues during sleep. That’s my theory.

So here’s the dream I shook off this morning, and its interpretation… neither of which is inspired. Yes, a real dream… just like this…

====================

I have to report to the police station/courthouse for a speeding ticket (remember, this is a dream, and I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket, okay). The facility is underground, a huge concrete city like an underground parking deck. Cold, dark, and dreary. (Being underground is a clue to me that my Inner Mess is speaking through a dream).

I park my car… a friend is with me. I’m not sure where I’m supposed to park. The signs are confusing and contradictory. I’m worried my car will get ripped off, so I park where a security camera points at it. But the camera is attached to a large truck, which seems to move around. I knock on the door, and an officer tells me I’m in the right spot, but I need a parking pass, and she’s busy, so I should wait there for 20 minutes to get my pass.

Is there anyone else who feels like I do about waiting, especially when it’s due to bureaucratic  inefficiency? Wait for 20 minutes? Right.

So I left, and my friend vanished–no one to advocate for me now–and I was directed to another room across the underground parking lot, where I had to wait in long lines… it seemed like a daycare center for scofflaws. Kids running around and screaming, and there were lots of people in different lines, and I got in one, and made it to the front.

There was a couple running this line, and they knew who I was from church. I didn’t recognize them, though. And they shook their heads and said, Wow a speeding ticket,as if they couldn’t believe that a pastor would speed. Their glum faces hinted my next stop was the flogging chamber.

bus-queueThe guy told me I was in the wrong line, and had to go to another one, and he was leaving anyway, so he’d take me. His two little kids followed… but not closely enough. Anyway, we passed a large, dark room full of miscreants of some sort. They were chained to hollowed out logs, about 15 people per log… like slaves in an old movie. There were a dozen logs, and the felons? speeders? jay-walkers? had to reach their hands into the logs through a hole, where a main chain ran through their manacles.  A guard was unlocking them for their court apperearances.

My gloomy escort chatted with me, unfazed. I said I sure hoped to get this ticket cared for fast, and get out of this wretched place, and he looked at me with big eyes and a sad smile like I was nuts. He said that there was no way I’d get the ticket discharged today, that I’d come back for sure. Meanwhile, his dawdling children made him turn back to get them, and he abandoned me too.

I had no advocate.

I pressed on through the dim caverns, looking for the Department of Speeding Tickets, which I suspected had become a cabinet-level office.

Along the way, I saw a long line of people waiting for a single pay phone, and I realized my cell phone wouldn’t help me, because we were underground, surrounded by tons of concrete. I began to feel trapped.

Everybody waited. We were stuck in an underground hell waiting for indifferent officers to discharge our petty crimes. Wasting precious life in a subterranean shadowland.

In the darkness, I saw a crowd ahead. They huddled in cold metal chairs, in an area cordoned off by ropes. There were about a dozen police officers, sitting behind windows, like tellers at a bank. They were separated from the riff-raff by a thick, glass window. Each officer had a sign above his/her head… “Parking violations,” “Right turn on red,” “Stop Signs”… on it went. But nobody’s sign said, “Speeding Tickets” so I approached an officer and tried to ask, but he interrupted me. “Take a number and have a seat.” But I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot, and couldn’t bear to wait for hours only to find I belonged in another line.

bureaucrat_small“But sir…” I protested. He interrupted again and said to just take a number and have a seat. He wasn’t mean, just indifferent. Bland and grey like everything else down here. I blurted out, “Is this the right place for a speeding ticket?” He said yes, so I sat miserably in that cold, colorless underground “malfeasance processing center.”

And woke up, thank God.

===================

Hear now the interpretation… (sounds grandiose, doesn’t it)

I contemplated my dream for about 10 seconds this morning, when an idea popped into my groggy brain: these people will NEVER be finished with you. You (meaning me, Bill) will never finish the process of self-validation. Self-justification and Self-vindication take forever.

This is something I’ve struggled with as long as I can remember. I so often feel the need to explain myself and my choices. To justify my ways to others who aren’t even listening. My Inner Attorneys stand ready to pop out and make the case for why my latest act/thought/decision was legit, and to answer critics, and to validate my worth… all of which happens in my head, solely for my questionable benefit. My Inner Mess has retained armies of lawyers for this dubious purpose, fueled by my own spiritual and emotional energy.

The trouble is, they’re not needed. Christ is my justification. He is my validation. He is my worth. 

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. (Romans 5:1, 2, NLT). 

jesuspowerEpilogue: (in which I write my own ending…)

Then, the underground prison blazed with light as the Chief Justice threw open the doors. His voice reverberating through the concrete underground, he said, “I’ve paid your fines. Case dismissed. You’re free to go.” A cheer rose up as we thronged the exits.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NLT).

Jury Duty Follow-Up

juryduty.gifI was not chosen for jury duty.  Whew!  Dodged a close one.  But I have to give kudos to the Shasta County courthouse and juror coordinators.  About 250 people showed up in a span of 20 minutes for jury duty.  The lines were long.  We waited at the security checkpoint.  Then we waited in a very long line in the jury room.  But the lines kept moving.  We never stood still.  At the front of the line, the check-in personnel were very pleasant and polite.
Continue reading