Grace is for the one who broke you

What does grace look like? No, not a dancer. Not your friend named Grace. God’s grace, the gift He offers to us freely that forgives us from our sins and provides us with a second chance after we fail (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Grace, in a religious context, is always about God’s unmerited favor. It’s God giving us something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn or ever repay. Grace is even a cute churchy acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Nice. Sweet. Easy to remember. But what does it mean? What does it look like?

Maybe I’m too practical, but while the cute little mnemonics are nice for memory, what good will they do if I don’t know how to apply them? If grace is essential to following Jesus, I should know how to use it.

So many times, I think grace and forgiveness and trust all get muddled together, as though they’re synonymous, and nothing is further from the truth. Rather, they’re all part of a process that’s connected to following Jesus. But if you do all three at once, you’ll end up back where you started.

Grace is for our enemies

God demonstrated grace for us when He sacrificed Jesus to save us while we were His enemies (Colossians 1:21-22). Did you realize that? We hadn’t done anything good enough to deserve Jesus’ blood. We can’t ever do anything worth His sacrifice. That’s what makes it grace. That’s what makes it a gift. It’s undeserved.

Grace is loving people who don't deserve loveThat’s the picture of grace we’re supposed to use. Grace is loving people who don’t deserve your love. It’s showing compassion and mercy and kindness to people who have done absolutely nothing compassionate, merciful, or kind for you. Maybe they’ve even done the opposite. Maybe they’ve hurt you, lied about you, gossiped about you, but no matter what they’ve done to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t love them (Matthew 5:44).

No, you can’t love them in your own strength. The only way you can love people who’ve hurt you or betrayed you is with Jesus’ strength. Practically that’s going to look different in every situation. In some cases, loving someone means speaking kindly to them or about them. In some cases, loving someone will mean stepping away from them, getting out of their lives and letting them face the consequences of their actions without you there to soften the blow. But one aspect of loving someone remains constant: Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard

There’s something in our natures that wants to cling to old wounds—or even to new wounds. We think that holding on them will make us stronger somehow, that rehashing every cruel word or deed will provide us with wisdom to face the same situation again. My dear friends, that’s a lie. Going over those hurtful memories constantly doesn’t make you stronger. It only makes the tear in your heart wider and harder to heal. And maybe it will harden you, thicken your skin so that you can withstand future hurts, but you won’t be withstanding them with God’s power. And your power will ultimately fail.

Let it go.

Grace is for the one who broke you

Pry your fingers off those old wounds. Stop digging into them. And let God work. Recognize that whoever hurt you is imperfect, just like you. And maybe they’re wrong, maybe the enemy is using them as a sledgehammer to bludgeon you, maybe they need to face consequences for what they’ve done. But that’s not your job (Romans 12:19). Your job is to forgive. To take those hurtful words, that painful situation, that horrible memory and stop holding it against them.

I know. It’s impossible. But only if you try to do it alone. God has promised that He will give us strength to do impossible things (Philippians 4:13). Once you throw off the heavy burden of all that pain and grief and sorrow, you’ll truly be free.

But what does it look like?

Because if you forgive someone, doesn’t that mean they’ll hurt you again? Doesn’t that mean they’ll just repeat what they did before? Or maybe they won’t even stop. Maybe they’ll see it as a sign of weakness.

guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your lifeThis is where Christians get so messed up. Forgiveness isn’t restoration. Forgiveness is choosing (sometimes daily, sometimes hourly) not to hold past sins against another person. But restoration is trust, and once trust has been broken, it must be earned back. The Bible tells us to offer forgiveness freely but to trust cautiously (Proverbs 4:23). Don’t just hand over what’s valuable to someone who will misuse it; you’re asking for trouble if you do (Matthew 7:6).

Be careful with people who have hurt you. They’ve done it once, and they may do it again. So think long and hard before you let them back into your life. That’s trust. That’s restoration. That’s wisdom. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven them.

Forgiveness means taking the hurt and the pain and the memory of what they did or said and turning it over to God. Stop turning it over in your mind. It’s not helping you. Capture each one of those damaging thoughts and choose to forgive. Move on. God’s got it. He knows the truth, and He’ll deal with each of us in His own time.

Live Jesus’ love

Regardless, extend grace to everyone (Romans 12:17-21), no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Always be kind. Always be truthful. Always think the best of others. Always help others. And don’t do it because you want to make them feel ashamed. Don’t do it out of some passive aggressive tendency to make them pay. Do it because you love them. Do it because that’s the way you’d want to be treated. Do it because tomorrow, you may be the one who has hurt someone else.

Following Jesus isn’t about you. It’s about Him.

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God’s great grace and the power of second chances

People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.

In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.

Unless you’re God.

AD76394B17Today’s verses are Romans 8:1-3.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.

There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.

God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.

I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.

But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?

Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?

God’s grace is enough.

It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?

God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

We experience grace so we can extend it

Three years ago yesterday, I ran a red light at the intersection of Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. It was not a happy day, although it was certainly much better than it could have been. No one was seriously injured, although several cars got pretty badly torn up. Even now, looking back on that day, I am overwhelmed with the grace God poured out on me.

It was my fault. I made a careless choice, and everyone had every right to throw it in my face. But nobody did. Instead, the police officer who showed up was kind. The guy who came to tow my wrecked car made me laugh. My local car dealership loaned me a vehicle off their lot for free so that I could drive around until I purchased a new car. Bountiful, abundant grace.

How on Earth could I hold anything against anyone else after I’ve experienced grace like that?

7D8934864C (1)Today’s verses are Romans 12:3-5.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Everyone steps into God’s story at a different point. Some of us have known Him longer. Others of us haven’t known Him long at all. But if we’re not careful, we can start seeing our experiences and our lives as the standard by which everyone around us should be judged.

Because we made a certain life decision and it worked out for us, that means we’re right, and everyone else is wrong if they don’t take our advice. Because I’ve found a way to use my skills in the church and it’s working for me, that means it’s the only way to do it. Or what if you meet someone who’s obviously living a lifestyle that goes against the Bible? They’re absolutely wrong, so that means you should steer clear of them and not have anything to do with them, right? I mean, they’ll only damage your relation with Jesus. Or, God forbid, you drink Starbucks coffee so you can keep up the conversation with the college kid you met in there the other day.

There’s always this big fuss about judging people, and that’s not the point of this post or this passage. It’s more important to always be ready to extend grace to people around you.

Do people know you as the Christian who’s against everything? Do people identify you as the Christian who criticizes or the Christian who puts guilt trips on other people? Or are you the opposite? Are you the Christian nobody can recognize as a Christian because you’re too busy doing all the same things non-Christians do? There has to be a balance.

Don’t look at someone’s life and decide they aren’t worth your time. You can’t make that call. You don’t know that person. That’s not judging. That’s having compassion on someone else.

Don’t hear someone’s story and instantly start talking about how they could have avoided trouble. Don’t throw it in their face if they’ve trusted you enough to open up to you. They already feel guilty. Laying a guilt trip on them will only make it worse. If what they’ve done is wrong, yes, that needs to be discussed but with the understanding that God can forgive any sin. And that we all need forgiveness. We all need God’s grace. Because we all sin. Each and every one of us.

The next time you see yourself in the mirror, just take a moment to remember that you have screwed up at least as many times as the guy tailgating you has. So let’s give each other a break, huh? I have done enough stuff in my life that I need every inch of grace God can give me, and I’m betting you probably have too.

 

God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

Grace for your heroes

Who is your hero? Don’t think about it too long. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? A teacher? A mentor? A parent or grandparent? We all have heroes. Some are older than us. Some are even younger than us. Others are our same age. And even though we know they are “only human” we still elevate them because to us, they’re larger than life. It’s not that we put them on a pedestal (though some of us do), it’s just that we have such high expectations for them.

So what happens when your hero falls? What happens when your hero makes a judgment call that hurts someone else? What happens when your hero sins?

Does it shake your world? Does it rock your faith? Or do you deny it and stand with them regardless of the truth? You know what I’m talking about. You exclaim that the stories can’t be true. You insist that your hero can’t have done anything wrong. How could they? They’re heroes. They know better. They know people are looking up to them, following them. They wouldn’t have made such a horrible choice. They couldn’t have.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone fails. Even your heroes.

8ZB9C03AIJToday’s verses are Romans 3:10-20.

As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.
Snake venom drips from their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.
They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

The truth about following Christ is that everyone needs grace, from the worst of us to the best of us. No one is perfect. We know that, but knowing it and living it are two separate things.

It’s really, really easy to fixate on the “good” Christians, the ones who know the Bible, the ones who talk to God, the ones who have the answers. They’re the people we go to when we have questions. They’re the ones we ask when we’re afraid or uncertain or when our faith is faltering. And in our minds we think there’s absolutely no way that they would ever turn against God. They would never disobey. They would never do anything God says is wrong.

No one is righteous means that no one always does the right thing. Does that mean you shouldn’t trust anyone? Does that mean you shouldn’t build relationships with people? No, that’s not what it means at all.

It means that even your heroes need grace. They need the same grace from you that Christ offered to them.

Not excuses. Grace has nothing to do with making excuses. Grace doesn’t live in denial either. Grace recognizes that you’ve screwed up royally yet doesn’t hold it against you.

It’s good to have heroes. It’s good to have people in your life to run to when you’re scared or feeling vulnerable. Just remember that people are people. Don’t put your trust in people. Don’t build your foundation on any person other than Jesus Christ. Because He is the righteous one, and He doesn’t change.

Trying to get on the train with the wrong ticket

I’ve spent the last two weeks running around England and Scotland, in and out of the rain, on just about every form of transportation you can think of. But mostly trains. Trains are one of the top modes of transportation in this part of the world, whether they’re overground or underground, but one thing is certain. Regardless of what kind of train you’re traveling on, you have to have a ticket.

There was one point in our travels where my dad had the wrong card or something had gone wrong with his card in general, and he couldn’t get on the train. And it had to be sorted out before he could get through.

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Today’s verses are Romans 3:21-24.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

The predominant idea in our world is that you can earn a ticket to heaven by living a good life. And that’s an interesting concept, but the Bible says the complete opposite. You can’t earn a ticket to heaven. You can’t deserve it. It’s a gift you have to accept, and Jesus gave His life to pay for it.

Nobody is perfect. We all know that. So nobody can be good enough to get into heaven. But Jesus lived that impossible perfect life, and then He gave it up to pay the fee for us to have eternal life. All we have to do is say yes to Him.

That’s the good news the Bible talks about from beginning to end. There is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ alone.

But trying to get to heaven using your own good deeds to pay the price is like trying to board a train with the wrong ticket. Like trying to get through the tube turnstile with a depleted Oystercard. It won’t work.

So don’t get stuck on the wrong side of the tracks. You have everything you need at your fingertips to find out how to live a life with Jesus. Don’t let another day go by without taking the time to ask the important questions.

The only thing worse than missing the train is missing it while you actually had the right ticket all the time and just didn’t use it.