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I find myself apologizing a lot, not always for something I have done, but often for what I am not able to do. I feel bad when I am a burden to others because of my injuries. I always want to do the right thing, and pull my own weight, but I am just not physically capable. This is similar to the frustration that Paul felt in Romans 7:19-25. He wanted to do the right thing too, but he found that he often did the very thing that he didn’t want to do, because his sinful nature was battling against him.

We can, however, both be assured and encouraged by Romans 8:1. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yes, there are natural consequences for our mistakes, our weaknesses and our sins. And there are times of trial that we must face even though we did nothing to deserve them. But there are no situations in which God is punishing us. None, zero, zilch. I believe that God does teach us through the situations we face, and helps us grow to become more like Christ through them, but this is not punishment. All punishment for our sins was paid for by Jesus on the cross. We are now co-heirs with Christ to the kingdom of God. We are Christ’s brothers and sisters, children of God our Father. Just as God was pleased with Jesus in II Peter 1:17, He is pleased with us. He loves us more than we can fully understand.

That is not to say that God is pleased with the sins we keep committing. It does not mean that we don’t deserve condemnation, but it does mean that the price for our sin has been paid. If we accept Christ’s sacrifice, and we are in Christ Jesus, then His Spirit lives in us. If we yield ourselves to the Spirit, we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, (Galatians 5:22-23) and we will want to avoid sinning, just as Paul did. If we live according to the Spirit, we will have life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

Friends of mine recently had a blessing party for their sixteen year old daughter. I have heard of people blessing their children before, at certain milestones in their lives, but this is the first I’ve heard of a blessing party. I think it’s great. At this party, friends and family came prepared with a letter of blessing that was read aloud and then given to the person being blessed, so that she could re-read them in the days to come. The letters would include words of acknowledgement, encouragement, wisdom, advice and the Word of God.

In Numbers 6:22-27, God instructed the priests to bless the people, and God provided the words of the blessing, so that the people would know that it was from Him. This passage follows a description of Nazirite laws and dedication which involved adherence to several rules that they would follow in order to separate themselves from the world and devote themselves to God. But the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 was not only given to the Nazirites as a reward for their sacrifice; it was given to all of the people. The word “you” is singular in the Hebrew indicating that it applied to each individual. God wants to bless each of His people, not because of their devotion to Him, but because of His great mercy and love.

Many people seem to think that people lived under the law in the Old Testament, and grace was not given until the time of the New Testament. Although laws were given to the people to live by in Old Testament times, this did not indicate a lack of God’s love. This passage tells us that God wanted His people to be blessed, protected and recipients of His acceptance, grace and peace. In that time, it was not usual for a monarch to give audience to just anyone, but by shining His face upon you, the King of Kings welcomes you into His presence. He wants to bless you, so that you may be a blessing to others. Freely you have received; freely give. (Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 10:8b) Take the time to bless your children, your grandchildren, your friends and your family.

Where is your heart? What do you rely upon to feel fulfilled, successful? For some it is their high-powered job, their talented or academically gifted children or their luxury home. Many feel successful as long as they are doing better than their neighbours. What is it that is the most important thing in your life?

Mark 10:17-27 tells the story of the rich young ruler. This wealthy young man enthusiastically approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. I expect that he was used to getting whatever he wanted, because he had seemingly endless financial resources. Jews at that time believed that monetary wealth was an indication of God’s blessing. This is not what Jesus said. Jesus recounted several of the ten commandments, which the young man declared that he had always wholeheartedly obeyed. He apparently missed the first commandment though (Exodus 20:3), because he chose to keep his money and to rely on that instead of God. How much he must have loved his money! Remember that his conversation with Jesus started with his asking how he could have eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer, and yet he chose to give it up in order to keep his money.

You will notice that as the young man walked away, Jesus did not run after him. Even though Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus felt love for him, Jesus let him make his own choice. We can all make our own choice about what or whom we will rely upon.

It is also interesting to note that Jesus did not tell all wealthy people that they must give away their wealth in order to be saved. It is not the having of wealth that is the problem, and it is not the giving away of it that results in salvation. The issue is who we give our allegiance to, and whom we rely upon in our time of need. It is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25) not because God’s grace is not available to them, but because they have so much more to give up. We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor earn our way by giving to the poor. We cannot save ourselves; we can only accept God’s gift of salvation which we are offered because Christ was willing to give up everything for us.

“My grace is sufficient”, Christ says. Sometimes I repeat this promise over and over to myself. Some days I need it more than others. We find this promise in II Corinthians 12:7-9. The apostle Paul had prayed three times that God would remove a thorn from his flesh. It is never specified what this thorn actually was, whether it was a physical ailment, temptation, opposition from his enemies or anything else. Perhaps it was not specified so that we would feel free to apply the principle to our own thorns. No matter what our trial is, God’s grace is sufficient.

According to Paul, the thorn was a tool of Satan to make him suffer, but in the end God used it for good, just as he had with Joseph. (January 31, 2011) God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he had wanted it answered, but God did answer, and He gave Paul something better. Paul was given the power of Christ, the grace of Christ, to endure whatever struggle he was going through. Just because God doesn’t take our suffering away, doesn’t mean that He doesn’t have the power or that He doesn’t care, or that as some think, He doesn’t exist. Sometimes there is a purpose for our suffering, a greater good, even if we can’t always see it.

In the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was facing death on the cross, He also prayed three times for the Father to spare Him from the pain. But He endured death on the cross because He knew that the Father had a greater purpose. He endured it with joy (Hebrews 12:2), not because He wanted to go through such torture, but because He trusted God to do what was best.

In Paul’s case, the constant thorn in his side was a reminder that he couldn’t accomplish his ministry as effectively, if at all, without the power of God working through him. If Paul had been able to do everything in his own strength he would have become arrogant, and I think it’s safe to say that many of the rest of us would as well. Paul’s thorn kept him humble, and it kept him relying on the grace of God. What is God teaching you through your thorns? If you don’t know, ask Him. Instead of complaining about your struggles, ask God what He wants you to learn from them. Ask Him what He will do through you because you have surrendered yourself to Him. By all means, ask Him to take the pain away too, but realize that He might have a reason for leaving you in it.

I believe that the grace of God is much more amazing than we as humans can comprehend, and yet it is available to each one of us. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the dire situation that the human race was left in because of Adam’s sin. Then verse 4 starts with “But God”. It begins the explanation we find in Ephesians 2:4-7 of God’s mercy and grace. Mercy means that we are not given the punishment that we deserve. Grace means that we are given the salvation that we don’t deserve. Both are given to us because of Christ, a fact that is repeated three times in these four verses, and they are gifts that are available to anyone, even the thief who was minutes from death on the cross beside Jesus. Because of Christ we have been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. We have been raised up in Him, and when this life is over we will be with Him in the heavenly realms. Spiritually, we are already there. This was made possible only because He loved us enough to die as a sacrifice in our place. Can you even begin to imagine this?!

I am also encouraged by Ephesians 2:7 which tells us that the surpassing wealth of His grace will be demonstrated to us in the coming ages. It is only going to get better and better. We will continue to know God more and more, but what I find most uplifting is that we are not expected to know it all right now. God’s love and grace is beyond what we can fathom, but there is a lot that He has already made known to us as well. He has given us the gift of the scriptures, His Holy Word, so that we might learn more about Him and His great love at our own pace. No pressure. It’s a gift.

In Romans 5:1-11 Paul discusses the benefits of being justified by faith.  Years ago, I memorized Romans 5:1-2 in the New International Version:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

First of all, we are justified by faith.  I once heard someone define the term justified as “just [as] if I’d” never sinned.  Through faith, and only by faith, we are worthy to share in the benefits that Paul describes here.  They are gifts given through the grace of God to those who believe.  The NET Bible translates “justified” as “declared righteous”.  We don’t start out righteous, but we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we can be accepted by God.  All we have to do is have faith, believe.  (Romans 4:3-5)

The term peace here does not simply mean a contented feeling, but a state of peace.  It is not the peace of God, but peace with God.  We are not on opposing sides.  We can join God’s team, and the only way to get on the team is if we are justified by faith.  And this is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus acts as a mediator for us to reconcile us to God.  As soon as we make the decision, we are at peace with God.  So, our faith plus Jesus gets us access to God’s grace.  We no longer have to worry about God’s wrath because He is surrounding us with His grace, His undeserved favour.  It was grace that allowed us to be justified by faith in the first place.

This all brings us to the hope of the glory of God.  Hope, as it is used in the New Testament, is not defined as wishful thinking but as expectation.  We expect to see the glory of God; we are looking forward to seeing the glory of God—to see God as He truly is.  We know that we will see God clearly in eternity, but we can also see glimpses of God’s glory now if we keep our spiritual eyes open.  (Titus 2:11-13, I Corinthians 13:12)

Sometimes we can get discouraged by all the things that we have to face in life, and maybe we sometimes think that God is punishing us.  He’s not.  It’s true that we may have to face the consequences of our unwise choices, but this is not punishment, because, if we are justified by faith, we are no longer under God’s wrath.   If we dwell on the promises of these two verses, perhaps our hope will be renewed.  What we are going through today is small in the light of eternity.  Even still, God is on our side.