Category Archives: Grace

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Thou Mine Inheritance

The Israelites pressed forward, spurred on in their quest to obtain their inheritance by conquering the enemies around them and claiming enemy land as their own. They were following the charge God gave to Joshua, courageously taking hold of the inheritance they had been promised. They faced enemies and danger and exhaustion.

They fought.

What is Our Inheritance?

The New Testament also has this idea of inheritance. Peter tells us that, as Christians, our inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). He compares this incredibly perfect inheritance with the pointless customs handed down to us as our earthly inheritance.

But just what do we inherit? What is it we are promised as children of God? Continue reading Thou Mine Inheritance

Three Things to Remember When Facing Regret

Recently my brother and I found ourselves in NYC, on a trip we had dreamed about for years and planned for months. I couldn’t believe we were actually—finally—in New York City. Every step was exciting, every obscure building a photo op.

As the days flew by, I quickly realized things I wished we had done differently. For instance, we didn’t plan as much time for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as I would have liked, and we had to speed through the last exhibits in the Museum. I also wished we had called our hotel ahead of time to ask about baggage storage after checkout; had we known about that cheap option we would have chosen later flights on our departure day and had one last sightseeing opportunity.

At some point in life, each of us will have regrets about harder things than travel plans. Most of us already do. When the what-ifs and if-onlys in plague our memories, here are three things it helps to remember.

We Are Not Perfect

We will not lead perfect lives. We are not strong enough or wise enough to do everything right, and to be human is to belong to that globally inclusive club of Those Who Mess Things Up. As Christians, we know that one of the Gospel’s central truths is that we will never be perfect—and we don’t have to be.

It is one of the ironic things of life that this truth is more liberating than condemning. Since we know that we and everyone around us will fail sometimes, it is not as much of a shock to us when we do.

God is Bigger Than Our Failures

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

No matter how serious our mistakes and problems, they cannot be greater than the power, grace, and love of God. Far from it: our greatest failure became His deepest gift of redemption. I mean, really. Think you’ve messed things up? Talk to Adam and Eve in the garden, with fruit juice staining their hands and nakedness taunting their conscience.

He knows our hearts. He knows we will never be perfect on our own. No matter how many mistakes and failures occur between now and heaven, our imperfections are covered by His perfect grace.

Because our perfection no longer depends on what we do.

When We Fail We Lose Nothing

So we should have done it differently, and we didn’t. We may be frustrated with our own ineptness, or, in a more serious situation, grieve what could have been had we done things right. We may need to apologize and seek forgiveness, depending on the mess we made this time.

But then we move on. We don’t have to live in that failure, or build up layers of restitution until we earn our way out of debtor’s prison. All the important things are still true, untouched by our inability and failure and stupidity.

God is still on His throne. We are still His people. He is still writing our story and everyone else’s, and no matter what glitch we think we caused in this chapter, He has already made it into something good that we will see with time.

Our faith is founded (partially) on our failure to be good. Catch that? Our faith is founded on our failure. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, our perfection is found in our identity with Him. Our failures can’t touch that.

In all those little and not-so-little messes of our own making, our identity stands strong and firm in the righteousness gifted to us by Christ. We don’t lose any standing with God or drop a rung on the ladder to heaven. Our relationship with Him is a gift, and will stay that way regardless of our stumblings.

When Those Regrets Come

As we travel through life, there will be problems in the journey. Dreams-come-true morph into mild disasters and our best efforts disintegrate into Have-I-Ever-Told-You stories.

We will have regrets. As we lay them at the feet of the God who sees our faltering efforts and knows our weak human hearts, we can trust He will keep us from stumbling too far and that His grace can cover all our if-onlys. Each of our regrets drives us to Him who does all things well, and who welcomes us with all our failures still attached.

The “L” Word: 5 Ways Legalism Kills Community

Some friends of ours used to attend a different church. One with conservative beliefs and many children—two things close to our friends’ hearts as their own children were young.

But after awhile, our friends became concerned. A parenting book had been shared among the church members, and that was fine. Our friends had no problem with the book. But the other families in the church took what they read differently, and began parenting their children more strictly.

These churchgoing families had taken good intentions and developed them into rules to govern their children’s lives instead of engage their hearts. When our friends tried to share their concerns, they were silenced, and left the church under veiled accusations of disturbing the group’s unity.

  Continue reading The “L” Word: 5 Ways Legalism Kills Community

“From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel”

I don’t think I have ever highlighted a book as much as I did this one. There are so many books available that are helpful, interesting, or timely—and then there are books like this one. Written as if someone has been watching my every move. And reading my journal. And guessing my thoughts.

Don’t Forget Grace!

For Christine Hoover, life as a church planter’s wife came with a long to-do list and the guilt found in not completing it. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t live up to what she knew God must want from her. There was always another person needing something. Always another mess to clean up. Always another activity to add to her plate.

“This was my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian: If I do good things, then God is pleased. If I do things wrong, then he is angry. This is actually the basis of every religion on earth except Christianity, this idea of a scale where the good must outweigh the bad in order to be right with God. I had religion down pat, but the religion I practiced wasn’t true and biblical Christianity.”

It was a light-bulb moment: the grace we are given for salvation is also given for every day of our lives. Once we come to Christ for salvation, He doesn’t send us back out to face our daily lives alone and in our own strength. There’s grace for that. And this grace changes everything!

“Paul also made it clear that our response to the initial invitation is no different than our response once we’re at the table: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). In other words, just as we received the invitation to the table by faith, we are to continue receiving from Christ each day by faith.”

Try as we might, we will never fully stretch our minds around this truth. We are accepted, loved, and welcomed—no matter what!

And so are the people around us.

Not Meant for That

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when we live by the goodness gospel we live by others’ opinions. After all, if our worth is found in what we accomplish, those accomplishments must be recognized and applauded in order for us to feel validated. This aim-to-please-and-impress-and-outdo attitude stands in contrast to the true gospel, but the solution isn’t to avoid people altogether.

In the beginning, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. While the crux of that passage has to do with marriage, its implications reach into humanity as a whole and are echoed centuries later by Paul’s illustration of the church as a body. We need each other. God gives us relationships and community for our mutual good.

Not for judging each other. And not for judging ourselves based on each other.

“[We] assent with our mouths to being followers of God but in reality we are followers of man. We are people-pleasers. We are people-impressers. We are also people-judgers…I know, in fixing my eyes on others, that I am turning from the ocean of approval and belonging found in Christ to a puddle of imperfect love found in people. But sometimes the approval of others drives me, and it drives me right into anxiety, fear, and self-sufficiency.”

Living by popular opinion isn’t living. When we fully recognize the freedom we have through God’s grace, we won’t want to measure ourselves by anyone else’s standards ever again. We are freed from all of that—forever.

Free!

Read that last sentence again.

Can you believe it? Seriously! This story of free, unmerited grace is real. And it’s your story. My story. Sometimes we forget the wonder of grace in its daily-ness. But that daily-ness of grace doesn’t cheapen it; it strengthens our dependence on it and proves it’s always enough.

“Normally when I think of gaining freedom, I think of charging forward in battle or fighting to be released from ties that bind me. But this is a freedom that has already been won for us. We simply walk by faith out of the open jail cell and rest in what has been given.”

So, so much has been given to us. No need to worry about being good enough anymore. No need to return to our own weak efforts. We have abundant and unbelievable grace, and it will always be more than enough.

“So we rest in what’s been given. We receive what’s been given. We respond to what’s been given. We’ll never go back to our pitiful, man-made goodness gospel, thinking it can give us life. We know the truth: Christ is our life…This is the gospel: not that we are right with God because of what we do but that we are right with God because of what Christ did for us.”