We Can’t Stop, Change, Derail, Prevent, or Slow God’s Work in Our Lives
MAY 8, 2019
Next week I’m speaking for a Mockingbird conference in Tyler, Texas.
By now, it will be over. However because God is the Eternal Now (outside of time and space), retroactive prayers can be quite effective. So I would appreciate it if you say a prayer. Not only that, if I make a fool of myself, it would give me someone to blame.
At any rate, the conference theme is “The Future of Grace.” I’m speaking for the opening session and, after a lot of work and prayer, I don’t have the foggiest idea about the future of grace. Given the incredibly rapid changes happening in the world, nobody else does either. These days being a futurist must be as frustrating as a MSNBC commentator after the Mueller Report. (No, that’s not a political statement, just an observation.) Margaret Thatcher, in her two-volume autobiography, compared her administration to pitching a pup tent on the side of a mountain in the middle of a landslide.
The future sometimes feels that way, doesn’t it? It’s often been said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. That’s true. It’s also true that if you want a good laugh, look back on the plans you made ten years ago. I don’t know about you, but almost everything I expected to happen didn’t…and almost everything I thought would never happen did.
As I prepared for the conference I thought I would simply state the question and give the answer: “What’s the future of grace? Who knows?” Then I would just sit down. But given that the Mockingbird folks are paying my way to Texas, I suspect that short speech‒though probably welcomed by some‒would be inappropriate. So I plan to say that, because God is immutable (one of his attributes), he will never change. Grace is always given from his side of the equation, so in the future some things have always been true, are true now, and will always be true.
As you know, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Psalmist says, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:25-27). The Psalmist also says that, if everything changes, God won’t‒“from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
When you consider the future of grace, because God doesn’t change, there are some things you can hang your hat on. For instance, it means that God’s love is not fickle and it always defines his relationship to his people. Calvinists’ “five points” are usually taught with the acrostic TULIP. Calvinists like to joke about non-Calvinists having a flower too. It’s a daisy. You pull the petals off one-by-one, “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not…”
That’s not altogether fair. Now that I think about it, it’s not altogether funny either. But the fact is that’s the way most of us live. It’s hard to deal with unconditional love when all you’ve experienced is love with conditions attached. When someone (that would be God) says, “I love you. Is that okay?” we wait for the kicker. When there isn’t one, it’s quite confusing and counterintuitive. It just can’t be true.
But it is! No matter what you do, what sin you commit, the people you hurt, or what you drink or smoke, God always and forever will say to his own, “I love you. Is that okay?”
There’s more. Because of God’s immutability, the future of grace is that (as a friend of mine puts it) you will run out of sin before God runs out of grace and forgiveness. That doesn’t seem to be right either. There has to be a limit, right? Actually, no there isn’t. I may have told you about the cartoon I once saw in which the father in Jesus’ parable (Luke 15) is standing before the kneeling prodigal son, with the caption, “All right, but this is the fifth fatted calf we’ve killed in the last six months!” I suspect the prodigal son really did go back to the “far country.” We all do sometimes. Perhaps he didn’t stay as long, spend as much money, or eat so much pig food…but the far country isn’t without its attractions. In the future, when it happens to you, come on home. The Father never changes.
There’s even more. God’s immutability presupposes and promises his presence and protection. The promise God gave to his ancient people is also made to us because it reflects the very nature of God to all his people for all time. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
As you know, Key Life’s mantra is “God’s not mad at you.” We use it on almost everything we print, write, broadcast, and record. It’s the biblical teaching that God, because of justification and imputation, will never be angry at his own. I’m thinking about changing that to “God isn’t mad at you, but he ought to be!”
It is said that Moses in the middle of the wilderness asked God, “Could you choose somebody else?!” Moses didn’t get a choice, but God always has a choice. If I were God, I would find another people to call my own. After all, there are people groups far smarter, and more faithful, obedient and pure, than his ancient people and the church. I have no idea why he hasn’t found someone else. Hosea’s wife, you will remember, was a prostitute before Hosea redeemed her and married her. It’s a beautiful story until his wife, Gomer, goes back to the streets. Hosea went and found her, and brought her back home. Is that crazy or what? He could have found a lot of women proud to be his wife who would have helped raise his children and oversee the household. It never happened.
The purpose of the book of Hosea is so God could say to his people, and to you and me, “That’s me! That’s how I deal with those I love. I will go to every dark place on earth to find you. I will preserve you and protect you. I’m here, I’ve got your back, and I’ll never leave you, no matter what.” That doesn’t mean we’ll always like what he does and allows, but it does mean that he will grow flowers in the mud and he will never walk out, leaving us on our own.
And then there’s one other thing I want to show you by way of God’s immutability. The future of grace is that we will get better and eventually we will be just like Jesus (1 John 3:2). Paul reminds us that the immutability and sovereignty of God assure his people that what God starts, he finishes (Philippians 1:6). What he’s doing in your life right now is a beginning that will progress until what God wants to make you becomes a reality. Someone has said that God doesn’t look for lovely people to love; he creates them.
Frankly, that doesn’t seem right either. It seems that the best way to get better is to be more religious, to work at it, to pray more, and to do more than is necessary in our obedience. But the Bible teaches that the future of grace is that you will get better and that God does it a different way. I’ve often said that I really thought I would be better than I am. I really did. Sometimes I blush when I see the rate of my growth. You would be surprised by how little I love, how much I rebel, how much I sin, and how unfaithful I am. I wouldn’t even say that if I didn’t also know you…I’m reasonably sure that you’re just like me.
You’ve heard about the old preacher who, when he was young, prayed that God would use him to win the world, but now prayed a prayer of thanksgiving that he had not lost too many. I’m sort of like that at least in the prayer of thanksgiving. When I was young, I thought I would be better, but now that I’m old I’m surprised‒actually amazed, astonished, and astounded‒that I’m as good as I am. While I’m not as good as I thought I would be, I’m incredibly thankful for the progress God created in me.
The future of grace‒because of the immutability of God‒is that you, like me, will be surprised by what God has done. He really is working in our lives. We can’t stop it, change it, derail it, prevent it, or slow it down. It’s what God does, and because it’s him and not us, we simply have to deal with it…
And laugh and dance because of it!
He told me to remind you.