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.

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.

Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle

Kent Ernsting

I was smitten from my first sight of him. The first time I held my newborn son in my hands the tears began to well up in my eyes. A deep sense of love enveloped me when I looked into his amazing eyes. I loved that little guy with everything within me. I thanked God for him and I pledged him back to God from that moment. I was struck with the tremendous stewardship responsibility that I now had, to raise him to become a godly young man. I knew that I could not complete that task without God’s help and the help of many others along the way.

Now he’s 14 years old, stands 5’8′ tall, and he’s strong enough to fold me into a pretzel. He routinely aces me on the tennis court. He’s a fullback on his freshman soccer team and he feels responsible for every ball that an opponent gets past him and into the net. He’s smart and brave and he wants to show others that he has what it takes to be a man. I will probably not know if I have successfully completed my task of parenting him until he is in his thirties. The indicator will be whether or not he is living a God -honoring life and rearing godly children.

I don’t know about you, but the challenge of shepherding my son through his young adult years with purity as the goal has been a daunting one for me. How can I talk to him about purity when my own sexuality has been complicated? I have had to deal with my own issues on the subject. We all know intuitively that we need to be the one talking to our kids about sex, but how do we do it?

I am an imperfect parent, but I want to pass along some tips and strategies that I have learned from others and have used with my son.

The first is the principle that RELATIONSHIPS COME FIRST. As long as I keep the relationship that I have with my son strong, then he will be willing to receive guidance and coaching from me. As Josh McDowell says, RULES WITHOUT RELATIONSHIP LEADS TO REBELLION.

I look for ways to spend time with him. Relationship growth occurs when we do things together like going to his games, working together on projects, playing pool with him, and taking him camping with me. It helps me to relate to my son and for my son to relate to me. Relationships are what life is all about.

I want him to know deeply and intimately how to connect with another person in a life-long committed relationship. I want him to experience it first in our father/son relationship. Eventually he will transfer that into a relationship with his wife.

Sex education is really not so much a matter of providing information as it is a matter of deliberate character formation. The first messages are the most potent; it is far more powerful to form a child’s view of sexuality from scratch than it is to correct the distortions the child will pick up in the world. This is a concept that I picked up from a very helpful book by Stanton and Brenna Jones, entitled How & When to Tell Your Kids About Sex. In fact, it was their book that gave me what I needed to know and say to my son when we had our first ‘key talk’ in a local restaurant. After I finished my explanation he asked, ‘Dad, do you eat that green stuff?’ as he pointed to the parsley on my plate.

I took my son camping for a weekend before he entered junior high school. Together we listened to the ‘Preparing for Adolescence’ tapes by James Dobson and we talked about the content of the tapes. Between disc golf and fishing we discussed what would be happening to him in the coming years.

We spent a weekend at a sexual abstinence until marriage conference interacting with various speakers, presentations and youth events. We went to a Promise Keeper rally for youth where the message o purity was presented through music, worship, extreme sports, speakers, and multimedia.

I take him to church regularly and help him plug in with youth groups and their events. Now he is attending Young Life where the message of purity will be reinforced. I want him to know about redemption when he stumbles and about the love of his creator sustaining him throughout his life.

Look for opportunities that will challenge both you and your son such as rock climbing, rappelling, or canoeing. Bathe your son and his future wife in prayer. Let’s talk about how it turns out when our sons are in their thirties.

Please see Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle.