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Grace…Given, Not Taken

It is easy to think of grace as God’s willingness to give me what I want even though I don’t deserve it. This poem reminded me that grace is really God’s desire to give me what He wants even though He doesn’t need to.

LIGHT SHINING OUT OF DARKNESS

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

William Cowper

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The Throne of Grace

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Hebrews could be my favorite book of the NT. As an intuitive-thinking type (INTJ if you’re into MBTI), whenever I read Hebrews I am always drawn into deeper reflections by the writer’s ideas, explanations of truth, and use of language. Unlike, say 1 John or James, where all the truth is on the surface and is fairly easily gathered in a single reading, every reading of Hebrews requires re-readings and further contemplation. Whatever gets picked up on the surface of Hebrews opens up to more that is beneath the surface waiting to be mined for meaning.

The verse above is like that. The writer begins in verse 14-15 talking about our “great high priest,” Jesus, who left heaven to become a man like us in every way, yet remained sinless. He is not an impersonal deity meting out judgment, but a an advocate for us who knows our temptations and weaknesses. Because of that (verse 16), we can be confident to come before the “throne of grace” so we can “receive mercy” and “find grace.” That’s a beautiful word picture on the surface, but dig a little deeper and it becomes even richer.

My first thought was, “Do High Priests sit on thrones?” After a brief word study, the answer is, “No…Kings sit on thrones.” But some other passages in Hebrews add detail to these words. In 1:8-9, the writer quotes Psalm 45 that talks about the “throne of God” where God the King (who is also the Son) dispenses righteousness and justice. In 8:1, the writer says that our “high priest” sits at the “right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” and in 12:3 that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” when his work on earth was done.

So here’s the picture that emerges. God, the Majestic King of the universe, sits on the “throne of God,” but he is a righteous and just God. Jesus, our “high priest,” sits at his right hand, interceding for us, representing us. If God were not on the throne, there would be no hope of ultimate justice in the universe, that sin and evil will be judged. If Christ were not our high priest, though, we as sinners would have absolutely no hope of mercy and grace. But because Jesus our High Priest and divine advocate is there, we can go to the very “throne of God” the King with confidence. Rather than the judgment we deserve, we will “receive mercy”–we are weak and sinful, and yet God will be merciful to us because of Jesus. But more than that, we will “find grace.” The implication is more than just finding something expected, but that we will “discover” this incredible grace of God, something we weren’t even expecting. Grace should always be a surprising discovery!

Perhaps that is what a “taste of grace” is all about–picking up pieces of mercy that fall from God’s throne that provide a surprising discovery of God’s grace. Grace to you.

The Beauty of Grace

Just got back from my oldest son Joel’s new blog at PoetsandPriests.com and picked up a piece of Bono lyric that was lying in his sidebar:

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things…
Grace finds beauty in everything.

That very elegant piece of verse reminds the listener that God’s grace is more than just an idea or a doctrine. Into a world in which every molecule and miniscule is stained and marked by the ugliness and hurt of sin, God’s grace comes to cleanse, heal, soothe, and most of all, to beautify and dignify. It comes not to politely excuse the sin, but to divinely reveal the beauty in every person and thing. Bono’s lyric immediately brought to my mind Psalm 149:4 (NASB):

For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.

The psalmist has called the congregation to praise and exalt God in verses 1-3, and now he tells them why–because God is gracious. Here’s a TOG paraphrase of this verse: For the Lord gives grace to his people; He honors the humbled ones with his deliverance. For God to “take pleasure” in us means literally that he “favors” us. That is very close to the NT idea of grace as unmerited favor. He is gracious. And his favor will “adorn” us–we are made beautiful by his adorning grace resting upon us. “God makes beauty out of ugly things.” Interestingly, the Hebrew term for “salvation” is “yeshua,” the Hebraic name of our Lord, Jesus. Though we are humbled and afflicted by this sinful world, God favors us and adorns us as his people with salvation, with Yeshua. Jesus. That’s the real beauty of grace.

Grace Upon Grace

The theme of God’s grace has surfaced occasionally in my 30+ years of songwriting, but never so clearly as in a song I wrote around 1977, just over two years into my new life with Christ. The lyric was inspired by John 1:16–“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”

Grace Upon Grace

All my selfish vanity and pride
I laid beneath the cross where Jesus bled
It was for those very sins that He was crucified
But for His grace should I have died instead
When at last my will to His conceded
Jesus took me in that I might see
All I never had was never needed
To know that He has love enough for me

Now every day I know my Savior leads me
Safely through the battlefield of sin
Helping me to keep my eyes on Calvary
Knowing someday soon He’ll come again
But in my fleshly weakness I can falter
When Satan puts the world before my eyes
‘Til at the feet of God before the altar
I fall in shame and then I realize

He gives me grace upon grace
All of His fulness is mine
And someday I will share
All of His glory divine
Unworthy servant am I
That He should embrace
All of my sin and my guilt
With His grace upon grace

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said
Blessed are the merciful and meek
Blest be those who mourn they will be comforted
Blessed is the God by grace we seek
Not a day goes by without His mercy
All creation sheltered by His hand
Members one another of His family
Love so great I’ll never understand

Why He gives me grace upon grace
All of His fulness is mine
And someday I will share
All of His glory divine
Unworthy servant am I
That He should embrace
All of my sin and my guilt
With His grace upon grace

copyright 2007 Clay Clarkson

A Taste of Grace

The idea for this blog emerged from a simple piece of verse that I wrote. It occured to me that the “feast” we await in heaven is to know and experience the fullness of God’s marvelous grace when we are in his presence. Here on earth, we can only nibble on that grace, but each taste is a reminder, even a promise, of the forever feast of grace that awaits us in eternity.

One taste of grace can sate a soul
Yet stir within a passion deep
For yearnings yet to be made whole
When wakened from this mortal sleep
To feast on grace forevermore

copyright 2007 Clay Clarkson