Celebrating God’s Attributes: His Grace

Mark Verkler

Grace defined:

1. The free unmerited love and favor of God; the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. (Romans 11)

2. The application of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. (Romans 5)

3. A state of reconciliation to God. (Romans 5:2)

Perhaps grace is the ultimate expression of God’s love to us and for us. …for God is love (1 John 4:8b). It is hard to describe and hard to grasp, partly because it’s so unnatural and so much against the flesh. I have such a tendency to either compare myself favorably to someone I suppose is a worse sinner than I am and unfavorably to someone I suppose is a better saint. Pride would keep me out of each group–humility would put me in.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘The Lord said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at it’s best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me.’

One of the most amazing parts of God’s grace is that He promises that it is enough. No matter the sin, no matter the failure, no matter the weakness, His grace is enough. I have learned that I AM NOT to ask for God’s grace. That is like asking for rain that is already falling, or asking for sunshine on a cloudless day. I am to accept by faith that God’s grace is extended to me and receive it moment by moment with thanksgiving. Of course it makes sense to give thanks for a gift as great as Grace. But I am afraid I all too often ignore it, or ask for it, instead of opening the gift of grace that is right in front of me and giving thanks and rejoicing.

In Luke 17: 3-4 we see another picture of grace. Jesus tells us that if our brother trespasses against us seven times in the same day, repents and seeks forgiveness, we are to give it to him. Would God ask us to do something he wasn’t willing to do? No. That is God’s grace’a well that is so deep it will never run out of water no matter how much we need or use. Though we are warned to not use grace as a license to sin (Romans 6), we are exhorted to embrace our weakness and need of it.

To truly know grace, it must go far beyond understanding and into experience. That means embracing my need for God. I am a Saint by God’s grace, and a Saint who sins and needs His grace every day. Dietrich Bonhoffer noted,

‘He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding in corporate worship, common prayer , and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!’

This is evidence of God’s grace working in me: I can admit my weakness and need for God’s grace to myself, my God and my brother’s in Christ. I don’t have to cover up so that I appear to have no need of His grace. On the contrary, I can ‘uncover’ and embrace my need of the gift of grace.

Someone said that God doesn’t clean his fish until AFTER He catches them. God is in the business of justifying the ungodly.

 Romans 4:5 says: ‘But to him not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ That is grace. I must not think that I have to justify myself. That is his job. Mine is to admit my need.

In closing, I am inspired by Henri Nouwen’s vision of grace in the story of the Prodigal. He writes:

‘In my minds eye, I see Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The dim eyed old father holds his returned son close to his chest with an unconditional love. Both of his hands, one strong and masculine, the other gentle and feminine, rest on his son’s shoulders. He does not look at his son but feels his young, tired body and lets him rest in his embrace. His immense red cape is like the wings of a mother bird covering her fragile nestling. He seems to think only one thing: he is back home and I am so glad to have him with me again.’

May we all go ‘back home’ into the arms of grace.

Knowing the ROCK: Knowing TRUE Intimacy in Recovery: Part 1

David Mackey

If you attended the Every Man’s Battle Workshop (and if you haven’t you are missing out) you will recall a session on False Intimacy. It seems that those who struggle with the Battle quite often struggle with intimacy. Which are what we were created for; Intimacy with God and Intimacy with others.

In Mark 12, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and His answer is ‘to be intimate‘, i.e. ” to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. To love with your whole being. Not just God but others as well (Matthew 22:39 says, ‘The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor’).

Agape (gr.); unconditional love with one’s whole being. Quite often, those who give themselves over to acting out become great avoiders of true intimacy. Truth is, those who act out, very often never experienced intimacy as a child, nor with a spouse or a friend and certainly not with God. Sexual impurity can trick us into numbing even the need to have intimacy with a real person. Acting out can somehow, for very fleeting moments, seem fulfilling’ it is false but an effective numbing agent for our true intimacy needs.

So, one might ask, what is true intimacy and how does one develop real and true intimacy? I’m glad you asked. There is not a simple and easy answer. There is no formula or 3 step process toward developing intimacy’it is quite mysterious. But a simple definition, someone once said, was that intimacy is just that’In-to-me-see. That’s a pretty good definition because intimacy does involve seeing into each other. Seeing each others whole being and allowing another to see within us. It has many facets but God has offered us an intimate relationship with Him and with others. He has given us glimpses, through His Word, of what that intimacy can be like.

This is the first of five articles examining some of the facets of intimacy. We will not come close to exhausting this subject but will focus on David and some of what made up his intimate relationship with God. Especially as one reads his Psalms, it is pretty clear that David knew God intimately. God told Samuel that David was a ”man after my own heart.’ The Psalms are full of emotion with David speaking to God from his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Throughout those Psalms David commonly uses phrases and the same word pictures repeatedly. These pictures seem to include some common facets of INTIMACY.

Specifically we will look at Psalm 31:1-5. Throughout the Psalms, David repeatedly mentions knowing God as his ROCK, as his REFUGE, and as his FORTRESS. I suppose we all have some idea what they might mean but David seems to have a lot to say in these word pictures. David uses them interchangeably throughout the Psalms, as in verse 2 when he says: ‘‘ be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress’‘ In further study we will find that David also uses these words repeatedly to connect with some of the In-To-Me-See aspects of intimacy.

That’s where we are going! Discovering what it is to know God as our rock, refuge and fortress. To have intimate relationship with God and in turn learn how to be in intimate relationship with others. Scary thought isn’t it. Inviting our Holy God to see in us and looking back toward Him. To look in the face of Jesus, inviting Him to see within us. It is joyous mystery’though scary nonetheless. Especially for those of us who, in our acting out, ran and hid from just such a prospect. It is not much less scary to do the same with another person who we can see standing beside us. Is it possible that prospect is even more terrifying? For so long, we have run and hid in our acting out.

Listen, my friend and brother in the Battle! God invites us to know Him and be known by Him at the Rock of Refuge. A stronghold and fortress that provides safety. These things are terrifying because we have not yet experienced them. Trust God; He invites us to rest with others on the safe Rock and Fortress of Refuge with Him.

One more thing. If you are already fighting in the Battle, you likely have already begun to taste of true intimacy. You have begun to find safety and protection in God’s forgiveness and acceptance. If you have an accountability partner, someone you told about your struggle, a group you attend, or a band of brothers, then you have begun to taste of intimacy in those relationships. And Our Holy God offers us even more! Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Celebrating His Attributes: The Message of Love from the Manger

Pastor Ed Grant

It was the day after Christmas. The pastor of St. John Lutheran Church approached the sanctuary from the parking lot and noticed that the beautiful, life-size nativity scene on the front lawn had an empty cr’che. He shook his head in disbelief and looked up and down the deserted road. About a block away he saw a young boy pulling a shiny red wagon with a passenger in the back: it was the baby Jesus. The pastor ran towards the boy and called out to him. When he reached the boy he asked him what he was doing with baby Jesus. The boy answered, ‘The week before Christmas I came to the manger and had a talk with baby Jesus. I promised Him that, if I got a red wagon, I’d come back and give Him a ride in it. I was just keeping my promise.’

There is a beautiful innocence about the boy’s attitude toward Jesus: He considered Jesus very approachable. As I prepared my Christmas sermon this year and considered the timeless accounts of the nativity I was profoundly touched by the message of love from the manger. I hope God refreshes your heart with a renewed sense of His love for you.

The first truth I grasped is that God comes to us whether we think we are ready or not. There is an old saying that goes ‘time and tides wait for no one.’ Surely a baby’s entrance into the world can be added to that list. No matter what we are doing when junior decides to enter the world, we stop what we’re doing and make for the hospital right away (Romans 5:8). When God reveals Himself to someone He doesn’t wait until the person feels worthy or until he has achieved some victory over the sinful aspects of his life. In fact, I have observed that He usually comes to us when life seems broken beyond repair or when we become painfully aware of our sins against Him. When we’ve exhausted every attempt to blame others for our failures and mistakes and finally accept personal responsibility, God is there to meet us.

St. Paul, who regarded himself as the ‘chief of sinners’, wrote, ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ His amazing love encourages us to turn from our sins and our self-directed life and gives us hope that He is willing to forgive us, fill us, heal us, and receive us as His beloved children.

Secondly, I realized how vulnerable God made Himself when He sent His Son as a babe in the manger. More than any other creature God fashioned, babies are the most helpless creatures for the longest period of time. Feeding, dressing, cleaning – the parental responsibility list seems endless. Isn’t it amazing that God made His Son to need the care of His earthly parents? His vulnerability also means that He was susceptible to the full range of emotions and hurts we experience: rejection, betrayal, anger, surprise, laughter, joy and grief. He is still susceptible to these emotions. That’s the paradox of love: You cannot love imperfect people and open yourself to receive their love without the potential for pain. God is willing to take that risk with you!

Finally, I was deeply moved as I considered how much love a baby requires. Most babies enjoy being held, cooed at, watching adults make funny faces at them, playing peek-a-boo, hearing music, being carried around, danced with and bounced on the knee. Babies always seem to stir up the funniest reactions in people, even during Sunday worship. More than once I’ve watch a baby steal the show when a parent puts him on their shoulder during the sermon. Adults for two full rows back can’t resist waving to the baby or making faces at him!

When I think about the baby Jesus in a manger I observe a profound invitation from God to love Him back. Read that again and let it soak into your heart.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.’(1 John 5:1) God wants us to love Him by loving His most precious Son. All the love God has for you is bound up in that precious child Who would one day give His life in your place. He left the splendor and glory of heaven and came to us in a way that everyone can receive Him – even a boy with a red wagon.