Monday began a series of writing on three crucial words every believer need to understand; guilt, grace, and gospel. Today I hope to cover grace. By saying that I hope to cover grace, I mean that I will be addressing a sliver of its depth and significance to the Christian life.
Though grace is amazing, an improper understanding of grace can leave us desperate, broken, and empty. I know this to be true because there was a time in my walk with Jesus that grace was not present, let alone amazing. Even though I was serving in a full-time pastorate position, I wrestled with truly embracing the eternal kindness of the Father. In fact, I found seeking to please God to earn His favor was rather exhausting.
Thankfully, I had a grace awakening during a spiritual formation retreat in the mountains of Southern California. God overwhelmed me with a feeling of wonder, love, and acceptance that I can not fully express with words. I suddenly realized the powerful, gracious nature of my relationship with God.
Many people define grace a getting what we do not deserve or via the Christian moniker: "God's Riches at Christ's Expense." I have come to define grace as God granting us with exactly what we need when we need it. Let me explain:
To a hopeless, drug-addicted prostitute, grace is the true embrace of God's love-- delivered free of charge, unconditionally. It is laden with the phrases "I accept you for you" and "there is a future for you free of abuse and solicitation." Grace is hope, here and now.
To hypocritical religious pharisee, God's grace comes in the form of rebuke. Words of woe, names of white-washed tomb, and declarations of "hypocrite" are actually endearing words of grace as well. They are needed, whether the pharisee heeds them or not. Here God's kindness comes as a grace-spanking, one might say.
To the soul-searching young adult, questioning the meaning of life, God's grace is a gentle wooing to "follow Him" followed by the revelation of His greatness and the His great patience. Grace is the invitation to truth and a God-driven purpose, significance.
To the parents who have tragically lost their young child to cancer, the grace of God is divinely-sustaining strength. Grace then becomes the empowering testimony that He alone will bring triumph from tragedy. In this situation, 2 Corinthians 12:9 is proved true, that His "grace is sufficient."
If God did not love us immensely, nor care about our redemptive possibility, He would let us wander into an ego-centric life of high piety, delve into the darkness of our depravity, or allow life's great trials to swallow us whole. It is God's eternal kindness, His grace, that beckons us to freedom and true abundant life.
I pray that God may give you exactly what you need. May His grace be ever upon you!
Well it has been a busy few weeks and I have just had the time to sit and address the final of the Three Big Words.
What is the GOSPEL? This is such a crucial question to the Christian faith. If we do not fully understand the hope of the gospel, then how can we share that good news with the world? Here is a simple two step way to think of the gospel...
1) First and foremost, let us address the gospel as the saving work of Jesus on the cross, the tomb.
We get the word gospel from the Greek words meaning "good news." What is better good news than a god that pursues people despite their allegiance to everything other than Him. The God who combined clay and His divine image into one to create humanity only to have it despise, abandon, and reject Him NEVER stopped loving His creation, His wayward children. Instead of wrath, God choose salvation, rescue and redemption.
At the cross, Jesus took the sins of all mankind, past, present, and future and through His sacrificial death freed us of the penalty, power, and eternally from the presence of sin. Of course, all of this is made complete in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. Without the rising from dead, the gospel would be devoid of power.
2) Secondly, the gospel brings a life of identity and purpose.
Not only is the gospel the past work of Jesus over death and the grave. It is also the present reality that brings life, purpose, significance, hope and identity to our lives. Do you struggle with any of these components of life? Chances are you are trusting in something other to sustain you-- something other than the person of Jesus himself.
How is it that the gospel is playing out in your life?
While teaching a class on spiritual warfare at the jail the other day, I ended up getting into a discussion with the men about three very important words. These words are crucial to followers of Christ and they can often be misunderstood. The three key words are guilt, grace, and gospel. Over the next few days, I hope to discuss each word closely. Today, let us examine the word: GUILT.
The word "guilt" carries quite a negative connotation. There is no way to really soften the blow of the phrase "You're Guilty." Joy is not the prime emotion of a defendant when a jury delivers a guilty verdict. A guilty conscious does not provide peace but instead induces stress and unrest. Not being able to let go of the past or forgive oneself is paralyzing to the soul. Guilt is surely negative, right?
Well, maybe having our guilt declared or even voluntarily announcing it in confession can feel negative; however, the apostle Paul puts a bit of a spin on the whole idea. He writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10 about guilt stating, "godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." Paul is arguing there is actually a good guilt, or better yet, a godly grief.
The work of a God-based conviction leads to a holy shame over sin which, by the power of God's Spirit, produces within us the work of repentance. Repentance is the act of turning from sin as well as the broken mindset that gave rise to the sin itself. It's not simply a change of heart, but a change of action as well.
There was quite a long season of my life in which I saw the godly guilt in my life as bad. Deeps swells of shame would wash over me when I even sought to pray, for fear that God was horribly disappointed in me. However, I have come to realize God uses guilt to draw attention to my waywardness and steer me back onto the narrow way. If my response is soaked with godly sorrow, repentance, and future obedience, then the guilt I have experienced has been fruitful.
A coach once told my son, after he hung his head over being corrected, that he was not in trouble but in training. That phrase has ever stuck with me. You can just hear the hope in the word training. It is as if Jesus is speaking these very words to me:
"You are not in trouble, you are in training.
The godly guilt and conviction you feel can be
used to bring about the redemptive changes
I want to make in you-- if you will allow
the Holy Spirit to do His work."
I often have to discern when I am allowing the condemning guilt of the enemy shame me instead of allowing the good sorrow of God to lead me into paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. One brings condemnation while one brings peace. One reminds me I'm a sinner while the other reminds me I am being redeemed!
I would say most people say they are "starving" when they are actually just "hungry."
However, this statement seems to be the opposite when describing spiritual hunger, even in the church. The truth is, I have seen a steady waning in what I would call "divine desire" over the last few years. Now, I do not have the proper Barna Group evidence on hand to back up my suspicions. Yet, I can most assuredly tell you I have found many a starving soul, and rarely with an admittance of the faintest spiritual hunger.
Even among the "churched" population, we have so satiated the soul with false intimacies, counterfeit gods, and misplaced pursuits. Distracted by the plentiful buffet of "other than Yahweh" opportunities, much of our cultural Christendom never experiences the slightest pang of soul hunger anymore.
Sadly, I would argue that heartless Sunday attendance, misplaced passion for faith-based events, and the infatuation with Christian celebrity sits on that buffet as well. It may be closer to the salad bar than the cheesecake, but it often serves as a distraction nonetheless. As it relates to food, the appeal of such buffets is the variety and abundance of food, not the greatness of the chef. As it relates to faith, the starving soul begs for abundant blessings and spiritual experiences, not the Spirit of the Living God.
To be honest, this increasingly prevalent phenomenon has me angry (for pun-deficient people, therefore the "grrr" in the title). In all seriousness, how long should the church placate the sinfully and socially satisfied? How long should we compromise the growth of the saints in Christ because a select few want to graze the buffet? When should we draw line in the sand, or the gravy?
Before you get defensive at my perceived lack of compassion, stop a moment and peruse a few gospel encounters with Jesus. The rich young ruler was not let off the hook because of his love and desire for money (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus did not follow after him in attempts to convince him godliness was worth a try. No, in fact, Jesus called out to the crowd as he walked away, "It is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
How about these verses...
Luke 9:62 - Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Mark 8:33 - But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Mark 7:6-8 - Jesus told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites in Scripture: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship of me is pointless, because their teachings are rules made by humans.' "You abandon the commandments of God to follow human traditions.”
Mark 9:33 - And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? ..."
It is difficult to argue the with the words of Jesus. Even Christ found himself exuding a righteous anger at the lack of faith, or spiritual starvation, He witnessed in the children of God.
"Please don't tell me you're starving. Just let me know when you are hungry."
Today, throughout the world is the celebration of St. Patrick's Day. While the loose morality of the day seems to permeate the celebration, it might do one well to know more about the proclaimed patron Saint of Ireland.
Patrick was actually born in Scotland. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pagan Irish raiders. After his captors returned to Ireland, Patrick became the slave of an Irish clan chieftain for nearly six years. During his imprisonment, Patrick once again embraced the faith of his father, who was a priest. It was prayer that sustained him throughout his captivity and a vision in a dream which led him to escape.
Patrick on Prayer ~
"The love of God and His fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."
In another dream years after returning home to his family, Patrick received a calling from God to return to Ireland as a missionary. His knowledge of the clan system and familiarity with the ways of the Druid people led to the salvation of many people in Ireland.
While some of the details of the mission of Saint Patrick are foggy, the piece that is clear is this: He was imprisoned. He was freed. He returned to the land of imprisonment to invite others to a new beginning in Christ.
"To New Beginnings!"
God Bless and Happy St. Patrick's Day
* St. Patrick's Breastplate - A Prayer for Facing the Day in the Strength of Christ
* St. Patrick Info