Leave Room For Grace

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” are some of the most profound/beautiful words ever to be sung within our churches! Do you believe them? Do you believe, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:5)? It is so disheartening when some of us forget this precious truth. 

Wrestling With Grace

I have struggled with understanding God’s grace for much of my life. I have difficulty in pinpointing exactly why that is. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that it is due, at least in part, to the fact that nearly every time I have heard a sermon (or preached a sermon for that matter) concerning the grace of God, it is almost immediately followed up with the clarifying words, “But you still have to be obedient!” Somewhere along the way, many have become afraid of grace. They have determined that if grace is preached, then christians will just start living lives of debauchery and claiming that “God’s grace will save them anyways.” After all, that seems to be what some attempted to say in the early church and Paul addressed that very clearly.


Romans 6:1–2 ESV

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”


Does Jesus expect us to be obedient? Absolutely, He does! He stated in Matthew 7:21 that those who “do the will of the father” as opposed to those who offer only lip service will enter the kingdom. Jesus stated that if the disciples loved Him, they would keep His commandments John 14:15. These statements are true, and we should regard them as such. The problem comes in when we develop a “performance based/obedience based” view of salvation. “If I work hard enough, sacrifice more, and perfectly keep all the commandments of God, then and only then, will I be saved.” 

This type of a mindset is damaging to the Christian, it causes them to live in constant fear of not being perfect. More serious than that, it minimizes what our God has done. Consider these words written by Peter.


1 Peter 1:13 ESV

 “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.


Take note of what the Christian was supposed to set their hope fully on. Was it their obedience? The Christian hope was to be set fully upon the grace of their Lord, Jesus. Church, this should make us stand up and celebrate! My hope is in the grace of God! It must be, because I cannot earn my salvation. I will not be saved if I have checked all the right boxes. I can check every item off the list, but without God’s grace, it is meaningless.

Scripture seems so clear in this regard, which leads to the question, “Why do so many Christians live in constant fear concerning their salvation?” The answer to this question, likely varies from person to person. However, I think for me, I know the answer. At its root, are a few verses that I have misunderstood for a long time. I’ll share one with you here.


Acts 17:30 ESV

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,


The perceived need to be perfect

For the longest time, I understood this text to teach that God “used to” overlook ignorance, but now He has no tolerance for ignorance. Therefore, if you and I misunderstand something, anything, we are lost. If we fail to do everything in the exact manner in which God wants, we are lost. Even if we don’t know that we are wrong, because, God no longer tolerates ignorance. This understanding caused me, (and maybe you) to tremble with fear. What if I am wrong about something? What if I do my best to understand something, but I am still not exactly right? Is that it for me? Is God looking at me from His throne, knowing that my heart belongs to Him, but sees me (in my ignorance) mess something up/get something wrong, and now, I have no hope?

A straightforward, out- of- context reading of this verse would lead us to draw these conclusions. As with all passages of scripture, context is everything. 

In this text, Paul is walking the streets of Athens. He looks around at all of the idols that the city was filled with. He even found an idol that was dedicated to “the unknown God”. Paul used this opportunity to preach in the midst of the Areopagus. He wanted to let them know about the God that they didn’t know. Paul proclaimed that God was the creator, and the sustainer. He even quoted from their own poets who believed that they were “offspring of God”. Paul then makes a logical argument to try to show these men the error in their thinking. Acts 17:29


Acts 17:29 ESV

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”


Here is Paul’s argument, “Since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that God is something we have created with our own hands.” Pretty solid argument, is it not? Then we arrive at the verse in question, V.30. What is the ignorance that God overlooked, but no longer has patience for? Keeping in mind, that when Paul spoke those words, the NT had not yet been written. Men did not have access to all the writings of scripture. Therefore, we know that Paul was not saying that God had no tolerance for ignorance of any kind. So what was Paul saying that God’s tolerance had run out on? 


Acts 17:30 (NIV)

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Acts 17:30 (KJV 1900)

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Acts 17:30 (NKJV)

30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,


The NIV, KJV, and NKJV do a good job of highlighting that there was a specific ignorance that God was done with overlooking. What was the ignorance that God used to overlook, but now was not going to continue to overlook? The very thing that Paul was addressing! This ignorance was the thinking that God was a divine being that was crafted from the imagination of man. This is what men were being called to repent of in this text.  

There are many Christians today who I believe do not leave any room for grace. What I mean by that is that they believe in God’s grace, they quote Ephesians 2, and if you ask them if they believe that they will be saved by God’s grace they will respond, “Yes!” However, if you really get down to asking them what the grace of God will cover… The answer in their mind is… not much. They make God’s grace so small. Far from setting their hope on it, they turn inwards and place their hope in their knowledge and their “near-perfect” obedience. After all, we can’t rely on grace. We can’t be ignorant about anything. We need perfect obedience. Have you ever felt this way? 

We see that Paul was not saying that all men, everywhere, had to repent of ALL ignorance. Rather, there was a specific ignorance that Paul was addressing in this text. Let’s take a look at one example where we see how God deals with ignorance within His people.

Consider with me one example where God shows His grace. Do you remember the account of King Hezekiah? He was the king who tried to restore the nation back to God. In his restoration efforts we read of him bringing the people together to observe the passover feast. Let’s see what the word of God had to say.


2 Chronicles 30:18–20 (ESV)

“For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” 20 And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.


Let’s make sure the stage is set. We see the people coming together to partake of the passover. However, they did so unlawfully. They did not cleanse themselves according to the Law. Therefore they ate the feast in a manner that was not prescribed. Hezekiah offered a prayer. This prayer was that God would pardon everyone who had set their heart on God. In other words, Hezekiah asked God to pardon those whose hearts were trying to please God, even though they had done something that was unlawful. Don’t miss the next part! What did God do? He heard that prayer, and he healed the people!

There is some clarification that is needed. We do not have an indication that these people could have continued doing what they now knew to be wrong forever and ever, and saying, “God’s grace will cover it.” What we do see, is that the Lord looks at the heart. We are reminded of this when God chose David to be king, (1 Samuel 16:7). Make no mistake about it, we have been ignorant many times in our lives. We are probably missing the mark in some ways that we are not even aware of right now. Does that mean that there is no hope for our souls? Absolutely not! It means, that God’s grace truly is amazing. I choose to set my hope fully upon it. 

It is my hope that you will continue to “set your heart to seek God,” and pursue Him with your entire being, all the days of your life. Do your best to follow His will. Set your hope on His grace. Unlike your ability to fully understand, and be perfect in your obedience, His grace will not fail. 

“Will God Destroy America?”

 Image

Disclaimer: This is not a political post. This is a post about our God, and His nature.

 

          I remember it well, I was terrified. I was a young child when I first heard those words spoken from a Bible class teacher on Sunday Morning. The words were something like this, “If a lot of changes don’t happen, and soon, God will destroy the U.S.”

 

          Now picture the effect that such a statement can have on a 10 year old child. I was devastated. I left worship Sunday morning with my parents and sister, and I wasn’t even excited about watching football when I got home. I thought “What is the point? God will probably blow up the football field before the game is over.”

 

          Allow me to say before moving forward that I understand the sentiments expressed by this Bible class teacher. I also understand those same or similar statements being made by numerous Christians all around. It is not hard to see problems that are surrounding us. We see more and more sin that is not just legalized but embraced by our nation. We see attacks on the authority of scripture, the church, and Jesus Himself. We also see examples in Scripture such as the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah, along with others that show the end of great cities and nations because of moral decay. It can be very depressing. Let me be clear, I do not think we should simply dismiss these issues and pay them no attention. They are of legitimate concern. I would however caution us to not dwell on the bad and neglect the good (Phil 4:8)

 

           I would like to draw your attention to 2 passages of scripture that reveal to us a great deal about our God.

 1.   Jeremiah Chapter 5

 

There isn’t a preacher anywhere around here that has had to put up with the degree of problems that Jeremiah was facing. Jeremiah, as you know was God’s chosen messenger to a people who had turned their face away from God, and were living solely for self. He was proclaiming the words that God put within him to the people. It was a tough message to digest, but it was a message that begged those who used to be God’s people to repent.

 

            Jeremiah 5:1- “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.”

 

Isn’t it interesting that to a people so lost, so hard of heart, that this would be a message to them from God? The message preached was that God would pardon/spare this people if they could find A MAN who was living right. Not millions, thousands, or hundreds. A man.

 2.   Genesis 18:22-33

 

In this passage we read about Abraham interceding on behalf of Sodom. One might deem this strange that he would do such a thing. It is important to remember that Abraham’s kinsmen Lot was dwelling there. Abraham was afraid for his relatives when he was told what was about to happen to the cities. Wouldn’t you be?

 

Abraham begins asking God, If I can find 50 people there who are righteous, will you spare the city? God answers that if Abraham could find 50 righteous He would spare the cities. After some thought (perhaps doubting himself that he could find 50) Abraham asks God, if I can find 45, will you spare the city? God affirms that He would not if Abraham found 45. Abraham, wasn’t satisfied, he continued “bargaining” He worked his way all the way down to 10. He asked God, if I find 10 who are righteous, will you spare the city? God said that He would spare it, if Abraham could find 10.

 

What is the point?

 

          It is so easy to be discouraged in the world in which we live. We read about violence, we see the depressing stories on the news, we suffer personal setbacks and loss. There is never “enough” money in the bank. Our leaders are not who we want them to be, as you know the list could go on and on. In Philippians 4:8 Paul tells the church to think, on the good things. It is easy to see the bad, the bad is all around us. Just like the bad has been all around God’s people throughout the history of this world.

 

Will God destroy the United States? Yes, just like He will destroy the entire world (2 Peter 3). However, we should be cautious in our predictions that because of the men and women in office, a bill that was passed, the latest story of violence, and such things, that this means God is going to wipe the U.S. off the map.

 

I am not suggesting that sin has no consequence. I am suggesting that we have the same God that promised to not destroy Sodom if there were 10 righteous people. We serve the same God, that said he would pardon Jerusalem if there was a man found who was upright.

 

Living in constant fear, and constant mourning over the evils in this world, is not only spiritually damaging, but a tool of Satan. If Satan can discourage us, weaken our spirits and our hearts to the point that we feel all is hopeless, he has done his job.

 

  • I am blessed to work for a congregation that is heavily involved in ministry working with our military. We sponsor a weekly worship service at Ft. Sill and average around 4-6 baptisms a week.
  • I participate in a preacher training camp every summer. My first year at this camp, there were 15 campers. This past year, there were around 60.
  • Each summer I serve as a camp counselor and watch as year after year, hundreds of young people are giving up their time to work on their walk with God.
  • I participate in a LTC circuit where several thousand gather each year.
  • I attended a youth rally this past Lord ’s Day where there were over 1,000 in attendance.

 

 

I say all of this without an ounce of bragging (since I have very little to nothing to do with many of those works directly) but rather to encourage. You see, these are just a sampling of a few good things that I personally experience on a routine basis.

 

I encourage/challenge you to do as Paul says and to control what you think. Think on the good, think on the positive; think on the good works that are being done. Think on those who are sharing the gospel. Think about the God we read about in Jeremiah chapter 5, and the God we read about in Genesis 18. The next time you hear those words “God will destroy America.” Think to yourself, “Not if I can help it!”

 

How much different would YOUR world look, if you no longer allowed yourself to dwell upon the evils in the world, but rather focused your time, thoughts, and energy, into making this world a better place?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

         

 

          

The Prayer That Shook Me

20120702-115738.jpg

It was going like any other Sunday, I woke up, and had my coffee. Then our family began getting ready for worship. We made it to the building, and I taught our auditorium class, and preached the morning sermon. We had some family visiting that afternoon, and we enjoyed the company. Then it was time for us to leave our home and drive to Lindsay Ok. It was the night for our “preacher exchange” and I was scheduled to preach for that congregation. It was a pleasant experience, welcoming, friendly, and loving are words that quickly come to mind as I think about the church there. After my lesson was concluded, I sat in the pew so that I could learn a lesson…

I was holding my son Jagger during the closing prayer, hoping I could keep him quiet(ish) until the prayer was finished. Then I heard words uttered that stopped my thoughts. maybe I am the only person who has never heard someone say these words in prayer before, regardless of whether or not this is a “common” prayer, or straight from this man’s heart. The words he prayed meant the world to me!

What did he say?!? – You are asking, so now I will tell you.

“Father, please, help us each day to focus on your Son. Father please, help us all to live the life, that He gave up for us.”

WOW!

“Help us live the life, that He gave up for us” What a thought! I so appreciated this brother’s words. I needed to be reminded of them. Church we do not live “good lives.” We do not try to be the best “us” that we can be. We try to be like Jesus! (1 Cor 11:1) All along realizing that I am not perfect, and will never be just like Jesus. Is it truly on my mind, today, that I am going to live like Christ?

Do we live the life that Jesus lived when it comes to..

1. Our love?- John 3:16, John 15:9

2. Our Submission to the Father?- Matthew 26-27

3. Our forgiveness/mercy/ and grace? – John 8

And so many other categories? I have been challenged. I have been encouraged by this prayer, I hope that you will be too.


“Heavenly Father, we are humbled by the mere thought that you allow us to pray to you. Help us today, to live the life that Jesus gave up for us. Help others around us today, to see Jesus clearly in our lives. in His precious name we pray, Amen.”