Category Archives: Faith

Grace! A Scandal Among Christians?

Hang around almost any church in America and it won’t be very long until you hear something said about the grace of God. It’s one of the most cherished and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet this grace is a scandal.*

Grace is Much Deeper, More Earthy

You see, though salvation is by the grace of God, grace is much deeper and more earthy than a few hymns and a doctrinal statement. The grace of God is rooted in and finds its grandest expression in the incarnation of God… in the Son of God, this Galilean born in Nazareth among a barn, born to a mother whose unwed pregnancy stirred enough scandal all by itself.

We know him as Jesus, the Messiah. We believe in him. We pray in his name, sing praises about him, and apparently we’ll even rent out entire theaters to watch movies made about him. I guess you can say that we love the stories told about Jesus, the ones in the Bible. In fact, every preacher knows that he or she can’t go wrong in preaching about Jesus. After all, we’re Christians… We have a friend in Jesus, who all of our sins and griefs to bear

We adore Jesus and we adore all those stories we’ve read about Jesus in the Bible. We hear the stories of Jesus driving out demons, healing a leper, feeding five-thousand hungry mouths, eating lunch with sinners and tax-collectors, forgiving a woman caught in adultery, washing the feet of his friend-become-enemy named Judas Iscariot, and even promising paradise to the condemned criminal as Jesus himself was being crucified… And our hearts melt! When Jesus spoke from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34), we hear his grandest expression of love and mercy. For even as he was dying a cruel and shameful and death he didn’t deserve, he never abandoned the character of God’s grace.

But… Malarkey!

The Apostle Paul wrote that even as we were “sinners” and “enemies” of God, Jesus died for us to save us (cf. Rom 5:8, 10). We love it, cherish it, stake our faith upon it. When it comes to us, we’re never beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. It’s not that we think we’re somehow deserving of God’s grace. We just know how much we need the grace of God, so we relish in knowing that God loves us and is merciful to us from the boundless riches of his grace.

But what about the other person whose sins are different than ours, whose struggles are more apparent than ours, whose life is much more of a mess than ours? What happens when we encounter a homeless veteran who only knows how to numb his pain with lots of drugs and alcohol? What happens when we encounter a flamboyant LGBTQ person suffering from AIDS who’s angry towards Christians because of the rejection he or she encountered among the church of their youth when they were struggling with their sexual identity? What happens when we encounter our Muslim neighbor whose ideological outlook on life appears unAmerican? What happens when that family whose skin color differs from ours, whose language isn’t American English, moves into the neighborhood bringing with them their culture from back home?

This is where the test of how well we really embrace the grace of God is proved. But truly embracing the grace of God is not something all Christians have an interest in doing. Some will go to great lengths to evade practicing the same grace they revel in as believers. When it comes to showing mercy, loving one’s neighbor and even their enemy, and practicing hospitality with the stranger whose sin is reviling, some Christians turn to their ever handy and favorite ad hoc proof-texts from the Bible. With their favorite proof-text in mind and coupled with a big dose of utilitarian reasoning, they dismiss the example Jesus lived – this life we are called to follow Jesus in living. I even heard one Christian point to King David from the Old Testament, as though we’re called to follow David rather than Jesus… as though the example of David is greater than the example of Jesus.

This is malarkey! When we resort to such evasive tactics, we become like the Pharisees and other religious authorities of Jesus’ day who knew their Bibles well but missed the very heart of God revealed in Jesus. The grace of God, which is most palpably expressed in the life Jesus lived, must transform our character so that we learn to think, speak, and act with love and mercy towards others regardless of what condition or decisions they have made in life. When it doesn’t, then the scandal of God’s grace apparently becomes too big of a scandal for even us to embrace.

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* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (June 4, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Forgiving Others As God Forgives Us

In Matthew 18:21-25 Jesus tells a parable about an unmerciful servant. In the parable, the servant owes a large sum of money to his master and cannot pay it back.* After begging his master not to sell his family into slavey in order to recover the money he is owed, the master chooses to cancel the debt of this servant and let him go. However, as soon as the servant departs, he finds another man who owes him money and has this man thrown into jail when he cannot repay the debt. But then along comes the master, who is livid with his servant for not extending the same mercy that he received from the master. The master then hands over his servant to be “tortured” in jail until he pays his debt back in full.

After telling this parable, Jesus says in v. 35, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Forgiving Others

The parable is a response to Peter’s question regarding how many times he should forgive another person who sins against him. That, of course, draws a response from Jesus saying, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The entire direction of this conversation has come about because Jesus told a parable about the Father’s happiness in leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost sheep and then some instructions for dealing with sins (Matt 18:10-20).

What we encounter first is the expansive nature of the grace and mercy that God extends. When Jesus begins the parable of the unmerciful servant, he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” as he begins telling about this master who forgave a great debt out of sheer grace and mercy. Jesus begins the parable that way because this is really how God forgives and what God expects of us. That’s why God is more concerned with the one lost sheep and why Jesus provides instruction about dealing with sin as well as how many times we should forgive others.

On one hand, as already stated, the passage implicitly speaks to the expansive nature of God’s grace and mercy. Sometimes we might wonder if God would ever forgiven us of our sins. The answer is a resounding “Yes! God does and already has forgiven us!” That, however, is the basis for the explicit point of the passage which is the fact that we must forgive as God forgives us.

But What If…

It’s one thing to talk about forgiveness and it’s another to do it. The challenge will always be actually embodying our doctrine of God’s grace. In particular, will we forgive others as much as God forgives us?

Over the last two and a half years, one theme I have heard over and over is how much of a healing community our church has been and I believe we are because I’ve seen it. We are striving to be as we say, “a family of grace in Columbia.” Yet a big part of what makes a church a place of healing, where the grace and mercy of God is palpable, is the willingness to forgive others as God forgives us. Whether it is the one lost sheep or the fellow Christian who sins against us, we must always forgive.

God’s desire for us to forgive others is not contingent on whether or not such forgiveness is deserved because it never is. We are to forgive others because God forgives us. That inevitably raises an objection from someone suggesting that forgive others might result in being taken advantage of by someone else. That’s a good point because at some point along the way that will likely happen to us… Just like it happened to Jesus even to the point of death on the cross so that we might be forgiven of our sins. But I never hear anyone objecting to that. So let us not raise objections instead raise our practice of grace and mercy as we forgive others.

How wonderful it is to know we are forgiven!

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This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (May 21, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Dad, Daughter, and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures

IMG_0142I brought my 9 year-old daughter with me to the Pepperdine Bible Lectures so that she could participate in the “Making Waves” children’s classes. She’s having a great time and so am I! Last night, on our walk back to our room (about a 15 minute walk) we had a wonderful conversation as my daughter asked me a question saying, “Dad, what is the gospel?” It was good to explain the gospel to her and let her chew on it, as she is thinking about a lot of things right now that have to do with Jesus, baptism and the Holy Spirit. She said, “I know that baptism is what people do when they decide they’re going to live their life for him!” So I asked her what it means to live our lives for Jesus and she said, “It means that everything we do should be about Jesus and what he would do.” My daughter’s faith is emerging and when she’s ready, I pray that she’ll give her life to the Lord and be baptized into Christ.

The picture is my daughter and I standing on the Pacific Ocean. Thanks for letting me share my joy with you!

Pepperdine Bible Lectures 2014

It’s that time of year again. I’m leaving today for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. This year I am taking my 9 year-old daughter, Caryn, with me and she’ll be participating in the Making Waves children’s program. Trust me when I say, she’s excited. Join me in praying for her faith formation.

This year’s theme is Enter the Water, Come to the Table. As expected, it will be a faith enriching time and it will be good to reflect on what it means to live from the reality that I am baptized into Christ and share in his table fellowship.

I look forward to the sunshine, balmy weather, blue-waters of the Pacific Ocean, and the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains (yes, it’s a hard life but someone has to live it!). I also look forward to the great periods of worship in the Firestone Fieldhouse as well as the challenging key note messages and the many classes. But the lectures would not be complete without seeing many friends, some of whom I’ve only known thus far through social-media (it’s the new world). So if you’re headed to Malibu, I look forward to seeing you!

Waiting By The Grave

IMG_0115It’s Holy Week and I sit next to a grave.* It’s the grave where my son was buried nearly twelve years ago. So no matter where I am at, there is always a part of me that is here next to his grave.

For some, a grave is a painful reminder. I understand, as it is for me too. Yet this ground in which my son was buried is also a sacred place of memory and anticipation.

It’s been five years since I have stood here in Searcy, Arkansas where my son, Kenneth James Butts, was buried nearly twelve years ago. In some ways, it seems far too long. Yet here I am and I come still asking why he died, wishing I could turn back time and change what happened.

But I can’t! So now I only a grave to stand by and remember.

Holy Ground

But this I am convinced of… That this ground has become holy ground. It’s holy ground because God has made it his place of dwelling, if only for a while.

During Holy Week we remember the final journey Jesus made into Jerusalem where he was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected. I generally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, these two events remind me that I am justified as a sinner and living with the hope of eternal life. But between the death and resurrection of Jesus is his burial in the tomb… a grave.

The grave is a cold and lifeless place of silence. Jesus is buried there to take his place among the dead. But God the Father is there too. Jesus is his Son, the second person of this Triune God. Jesus is the one through whom the Father has become flesh and now he is buried in the grave.

Holy Ground!

Waiting

So here I am next to my son’s grave. God knows! He knows because he’s been here, because he is here with me… with Kenny. It’s a sacred place of waiting. It’s waiting for the promise of the Father, that his Son, Jesus, would not be abandoned to the grave. That is the rest of the story remembered during Holy Week.

It’s my story and our story. By the grave there is waiting. By the grave God waits with us, just as the Father waited when his Son was laid in the grave. God waits with us as he waited for that early Sunday morning when his Son would rise.

I come to the grave not as a place of permanence but as a place of waiting, a holy ground where God waits too. And waiting in faith and hope for that day when the wait will be over, when I will no longer need to remember the past because the future will become eternally present.

But until then, I’ll be waiting!

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* This same article is published in Connecting 29 (April 17, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

Faith, Rather than Fear

The headline read, “Chile quake: This was big but a bigger one awaits, scientist says.” This is what I saw when opening the CNN website. After an enormous earthquake off the coast of Chile which resulted in a tsunami warning being issued for most of the South American western coast, the media is already speculating about what might yet come.*

This is but one example of the fear mongering that is passed off as news in our culture. Apparently fear is big business, as it seems to draw in listeners and readers which then draws in sponsorships with deep pockets. Ultimately such fear creates an irrationally reactive culture of fear. Just think about how much money and time is invested into what may happen as a result of climate change, global terrorism, pandemic illness, and so on. This is not to suggest that such issues should be ignored. However, when the driving factor is fear and the only response is more human ingenuity, which in many ways becomes a symbol of hubris, there is reason for concern.

The Hebrew Faith

The most frequent command in the Bible is “fear not.” That’s because the ancient world had plenty of reasons for being afraid. Both moral evil and natural evil were as much of a problem then as they are now. Not having the advantage of industry and technology, that so often become idols today, the ancients believed they were at the mercy of the gods. Consequently, they offered sacrifices to idols believing that such worship would result in prospering rather than facing peril.

Israel thought differently, believing in one God, the Lord Almighty, whom they trusted. They believed that God was sovereign and yet, as evident from the book of Job, they did not believe in divine retribution where suffering is a sign of one’s sinfulness. The problem of evil was and still is a mystery. Yet, even so, they chose to walk by faith rather than live in fear.

We might recall the line, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4, NIV). The Hebrew faith understood well that the Lord was in control, striving to live by this conviction rather than living in fear.

Our Faith

Of course, it’s not always easy to live out of a faith conviction. There are a number of things that can assail our faith. Not the least of which is a catastrophic tragedy or event which threatens our existence and even our very life. In fact, as I am writing this, I am learning of the mass shooting that has taken place on Fort Hood. When such horrendous events happen, it’s normal to become concerned, feel anxiety and worry, and become fearful.

I can only imagine the sort of fear the disciples must have felt after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. Not only did they see Jesus, whom they had followed to Jerusalem, die in such a horrid fashion but the anxiety over what might happen to them was surely paralyzing.

Then Jesus was raised from death, just as he promised!

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, his first words were “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). Though this was a customary Jewish greeting, it took on new meaning because the disciples could now truly be at peace. Jesus, the Messiah, had overcome the impossible, defeating the worst enemy which is death. What more could the Jewish and Roman authorities do to him? They exhausted the limits of their power and still came up empty. God was victorious and the result was true peace, knowing that now all the evil, including death itself, had been defeated.

That victory is the promise of our victory too, as Paul reminds us (cf. 1 Cor 15:56-57). As Easter approaches, we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, we must remember this story – the good news – with regularity so that it becomes the story we react to throughout our days. In doing so, we learn to respond in faith rather than fear.

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* This same article is published in Connecting 29 (April 2, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

Grace Is When God…

I’ve started reading through Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is a Lutheran Pastor. After hearing the author speak once and knowing something of her story, I was intrigued when this book came out. One I started reading the book and learned that she was raised in a Church of Christ, it makes even more sense why I find her story intriguing. Now a word of warning to those with super-disdain for foul language… you are warned.

The author is just like us all, a sinner in need of God’s grace. I lament that she didn’t learn about the grace of God in a Church of Christ but I understand. I only hope that as preacher in a Church of Christ, those who hear me preach and teach will learn of God’s grace because we’re all hopeless without it.

As I do reflect on my own preaching and teaching as well as my own relationship to God, I become ever more aware of my own short-comings, my failures, my sins, my… I’m thankful the love of God, a love that has given me life in Christ and assures me that there isn’t any condemnation in Christ (cf. Rom 8:1). And then as I was reading Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber had this to say about grace:

Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all… instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own s***. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace—like saying “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.” (p. 48).

God.

Love.

Makes all things new!

Feast on that over the weekend. Let the grace of God be a balm to our soul. Let it transform us, forgetting the past and striving for what lies ahead (cf. Phil 3:13) to the glory of God!

Two Profound Words on this Ash Wednesday

This Sunday I’m preaching from one of my favorite Bible stories, in John 11, where Jesus exclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The context of the story is the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and so the text speaks voluminously on the theme of life, death, and hope.*

One of my favorites scenes in the story is when Jesus approaches the tomb where Lazarus has been buried and sees Mary along with some other Jews crying. There, the text says two words, “Jesus wept” (v. 35).

Though it’s the most simple of sentences possible, it’s a profound statement about God. You see, from the Gospel of John wants us to know that Jesus is God in the flesh. In fact, the beautiful mystery of the incarnation is not that Jesus is like God but that God is like Jesus. And in this story God is so identified with the pain and suffering of those mourning the death of Lazarus, that God weeps too.

Ash Wednesday and The Suffering

This is who the church is to follow, this God who comes full of grace and truth, who has become flesh in the person of Jesus the Messiah. As Jesus identifies with the suffering of the world, weeping with those who weep, so also must the church.

Enter Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Lent, a season that some Christian traditions observe for forty-six days leading up to Easter Sunday. The practice derives from an ancient religious practice of using ashes to express mourning. For example, after suffering his afflictions, Job sat among the ashes and later used ashes in his response to God (cf. Job 2:8; 42:6). So a part of Ash Wednesday and Lent is reminding ourselves that we, as the people of God, are identifying with the brokenness and suffering of the world.

I neither commend nor condemn the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent for Christians. I believe we have the freedom in Christ to either participate in this observance or not. However, as followers of Jesus, we must be people who learn how to identify with the suffering of others. In doing so we become the hands and feet of Jesus, offering the expression of God’s grace and truth. It’s an expression that acknowledges the unfairness and pain of a broken world marred by suffering but it’s also expresses the promise of hope we have in Jesus. For Jesus’ next act is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, a sign pointing toward his own resurrection which stands as the assurance of life to all who believe in him.

Identification With the Suffering

Of course, Lent is just a season for those Christians who choose to observe it. Identification with the suffering isn’t just for a season. This wonderful ministry should last until the day when Jesus returns, making all things new and drying up the tears from every eye.

Fortunately, in my experience, the church has done this well. I’m aware of the horror stories in which churches have failed the suffering miserably but that hasn’t been my experience. When I lost my father at the age of twenty-two, it was the church — a particular church I barely knew — that identified with my suffering. I remember the cards, the calls, and the visits. When my son died and life for my wife and I suddenly seemed to collapse, it was the church that lifted us up. I remember the church gathering in the trauma center to weep with my wife and I. We remember the days that followed with the church coming by to just listen, to serve, to comfort (we remember the little puppy we named “Shadow” that was given to us), and occasionally speak a needed truth, a word of hope. None of that ministry required any fancy programming or high-cost expenditures, just people willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

And, of course! This is what we are called to be as the church of Jesus Christ.

So with the power of the Holy Spirit, may we enter the suffering world around us as people bearing witness to the grace and truth of God!

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* This post is published as an article of the same title in Connecting 29 (March 5, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

The Web of Faith, Love, and Hope . . . And Doubt

In my church we sing the songs Lord, Reign In Me and I Surrender All. But to actually totally surrender ourselves to the Lord and let him reign in and over every part of our life… Well, that’s difficult to do.*

I tried doing this once. I prayed to God that he would have his complete way with me, transforming me into the likeness of Christ so that he could use me for service in his kingdom however he saw fit. Then my son died.

At the time, I wondered how Kenny’s death might be part of this process. As time went on and I began to see how God was using the tragedy of our son’s death to shape me, I became afraid to pray that prayer of surrender because I was afraid of what else it might cost me.

In some ways, I still am afraid of that prayer. But I know that I’m not alone.

What I’m speaking of is the struggle to trust God. And I know that there are many Christians who struggle with this. It’s not that we don’t have faith in God or that we don’t believe in Jesus. It’s a different struggle . . . a different sort of doubt. Imagine being hit by a car as you cross a street and then being asked to cross the street again. And so it is with life!

They Got Hit!

I imagine this is part of the struggle the Thessalonians were encountering. They put their faith in Christ and were taught to live a new life in Christ, renouncing their ungodly living, with the expectation of the immanent return of Christ. But when some fellow believers passed from this life before Christ returned, they got hit! Doubt set in and questions of trust gripped the consciousness of their faith.

After giving a report on some of his ministry happenings and exhorting the Thessalonians in godly living, the apostle Paul addresses the coming of Christ (1 Thess 4:13-18). This is Paul’s way of reassuring these Christians that they have not believed in vain. Paul continues on, saying in 1 Thess 5:8-10:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Paul actually uses the action language of “putting on” faith, love, and hope because of the promise of life — salvation through Jesus Christ.

Keep Putting On…

As mentioned earlier, there are times when I’m still afraid to completely trust God and perhaps there always will be. Yet I do try and as I do, I am consciously aware of my own sinfulness and the need keep allowing God to transform me into the likeness of Christ. I’m also aware of how much the sting of death still haunts me, casting doubts through unanswered questions. It would be easier just to say “no” in not so many words and keep God at an arms distance away. But that isn’t faith, nor is it love and hope.

Perhaps this resonates with you, even if in different ways. My word of encouragement is Paul’s word of encouragement: keep putting on faith, love, and hope, knowing that we have received a promise of salvation that God will fulfill in its entirety when Christ returns. It’s the promise of the life that we will have together with God.

And Gathered With My Church…

As a final thought, let me say a word about the church in relation to our struggles of faith. In the larger world of Christian blogging there’s been a lot of conversation about the church lately and whether we need the church? Putting aside the theological issues with such a question, I believe that the church does matter and that we do need the church because it’s the church that helps us put on faith, love, and hope.

It’s the church that has passed on the gospel tradition we belong too and the scriptures that teach about this tradition. It is also in gathering with the church for worship, fellowship, and ministry that we remind ourselves of the truth and in doing so, assembling as a church becomes a way of putting on our faith, love, and hope. When I gather with my church, the Columbia Church of Christ, I am reminded of God’s grace and truth . . . of God’s promise in Christ. And gathered with my church, the Holy Spirit strengthens me to carry on with this web of faith, love, and hope that is sometimes mixed with doubts.

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* A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (February 20, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

“I’m A Sinner! Can I be Forgiven?”

“I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?”

That was the question I was asked a few weeks ago and it was asked by a Christian. The truth is, I know a lot of Christians, including myself, who have been confronted with this reality once again and have wondered about this question. This can be a difficult burden to bear.

Too Troubled to Speak…

I wonder if that is part of the problem the writer of Psalm 77 is facing as he cries out to God for help (v. 1). The Psalm never reveals what the actual issue is that has caused such anguish but whatever it is, the Psalmist says “I was too troubled to speak” (v. 4). That’s actually one of my favorite lines in the collection of 150 Psalms because I have experienced moments in my life when I was too troubled to speak… because of sin, death, doubt, etc… I’m sure others have too. What the actual issue is, it has troubled the Psalmist enough that he wonders if the Lord will forever reject him forever, no longer showing love, mercy, and compassion (vv. 7-9).

That’s a horrible feeling to live with. I’ve been there in my own life before and I’ve sat across the table with others in this same state of emotions. But the Psalm does not end here. The Psalmist basically states that he will remember the mighty deeds of the Lord done in the past and then he recalls these acts (vv. 10-20). Here is the key to the question of whether we can be forgiven: Remember and Recall the mighty acts of God!

But What the Lord Has Done…

What has the Lord done? Did he not lead the children of Israel, unworthy of his mercy, out of slavery and into the promise land? Did he not forgive King David, who had an affair with Bathsheba and then had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah murdered? Did he not promise to love and show mercy to the adulteress children Israel by sending a prophet named Hosea who was married to a prostitute as an illustration? Did God not show his love and willingness to forgive by sending us his one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins? Did this Son not show grace and mercy to a sinful woman in Luke 7 who could only wipe the feet of Jesus with her tears of shame? Did the Son not show mercy to Peter and the other apostles who, as his followers, abandoned him when he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion? Did the Son not offer grace to Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul) who was a murderer and persecutor of Christ and his church?

And those are just some of the mighty acts of grace and mercy that I often recall.

Grace and Mercy!

When we are confronted with our sin, I find that there are two responses we try first. One is to wallow in despair, believing that God will not forgive us. I hope what I’ve discussed above reminds us that there is not any need for such despair, for the Lord does indeed does forgive.

The other response is to try and offer penance for our sin. Penance, as I am using the term, is the attempt to make ourselves worthy of God’s forgiveness by doing something to show how sorrowful we are of our sin. This is different from repentance in which we acknowledge that what we are doing is wrong and change so that we are not doing what is wrong anymore. In my experience, I’ve ministered with a lot of people who at one time were taught a legalistic approach to the Christian faith where we get right with God because of what we do rather than what God has done. For such people, including myself, it is always tempting to try and offer some expression of penance but that will never work.

God’s grace and mercy is just that. God forgives not because he is compelled to do so by anything. Rather, God forgives because he chooses to do so! God forgives because he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8, NRSV). This is why God does forgive us! And of course, it is this grace of God that should move us to turn away from sin and as the righteous people of God he has made us in Christ.

So remember the might acts of grace and mercy that God has done in the past. And that includes the people around you at church who all can only stand in the presence of God because of his grace and mercy!

And when you find yourself in that place where you are saying, “I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?” Remember that the answer is, “Yes, you are!”