The question in the title of this article was asked to me in a Bible study recently. And as soon as I heard it, I thought, “What a great question!” What is grace? Specifically, what is God’s grace? What does it mean for us? What does it tell us about God?
I find it helpful to define grace by comparing it to mercy. Mercy is God’s way of “letting us off the hook.” It is his willingness to forego the punishment we deserve for our sins—the death that sin should cause in every life (Rom. 6:23). It was God’s mercy that allowed Jesus to die as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins and save us from death. The cross is God’s mercy, and praise His name for its power!
Grace, then, takes God’s mercy to an even higher level. Where mercy provides a stay of execution for all of us as convicted sinners, grace gives the blessing of brand new life in Christ. Grace is the abundant richness of God’s gifts to us. And so where God’s mercy foregoes the punishment we deserve, God’s grace goes above and beyond giving us every favor that we, by all rights, should never have received! Where the cross is God’s mercy, the empty tomb is his abounding grace to give life to those who believe in his name! And praise His name for the power of that empty tomb!
Grace, then is God’s above-and-beyond generosity in action. In it, he shows the true depths of his ability to forgive.
In 2007, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and killed 5 girls, aged 6-13, before turning the gun on himself. In the days that followed, the Amish community reached out to the killer’s family to offer mercy in the form of forgiveness and condolences for their own losses. In the days that followed that, the community showed immense grace when they set up a charity foundation for the killer’s family to pay for his funeral and to help his widow with whatever expenses she might incur after her husband’s death.
Of course, this is what God’s mercy and grace do for us. His mercy offers us forgiveness, and his grace gives us all riches to enjoy in Jesus Christ! Grace is not get-out-of-guilt-free card, but it is a powerful example of how good our God really is. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Every new year presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our past selves and make plans for our future selves. Below, you’ll find a collection of thoughts from God’s word that I hope will help you do that well today, tomorrow, and in all the coming days of 2016.
"For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…” (1 Pet. 4:3)
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:25-29)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:30-31)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
“…in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:9-12)
Meditate on these principles. Determine new ways you can implement them in your life. Remember the power that God promises to those who seek to live in his grace! Trust in that power. No commandment is more important than this one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Happy New Year! I love you, and I’m praying for all of us to grow in Christ in 2016!
The past week has been an emotional roller coaster for a lot of people. Christmas was this past Friday with all of its joy and frivolity. And then the next day, a massive winter storm hit the central states with snow, flooding, violent thunderstorms, and dangerous ice. There were travel hassles, car accidents, lost homes, and several lives lost in several states as a result.
As we've been studying "A Life Lost... And Found" in our Wednesday night classes, it has given me a little greater appreciation for the enormous sorrow that this week's losses will inevitably bring to many. The joy of the holidays will likely be tainted for many next year as they remember how much was lost in the same week. And as God's people, it's important that our hearts are open enough to care about those who are hurting—those who've been injured, who've lost their homes, who've lost their moms & dads or siblings or their children. It's part of who we are to be compassionate people who feel the pain of others and do our best to help them! We are called to be connected people—those who see this world's problems and respond appropriately.
And yet, times like these also give us a chance to remember what the hymn writer said: "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through. My [real] treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue!" The Holy Spirit made a similar point when he said, "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6-8). This is obviously not meant to say that we just don't care about the people in our lives here on earth or that we should never celebrate a joyous time here on earth. Plenty of other Bible passages tell us to do both of things to the fullest! But when we see scenes like this week's storms and the devastation that is caused, we would do well to remember that while these things matter a great deal, they matter even more when we view them through the lens of what matters MOST — the power, the grace, and the unshakeable hope of belonging to Christ Jesus! The long view doesn't make us distant from the problems of other people in this world; it gives us the ability to walk by faith and to expect God's redeeming power at the end of all things.
When Jesus spoke about anxiety in Matthew 6:25, he spoke of two common objects of worry. Number 1: our lives—the food we will eat & drink. Number 2: our bodies—the clothing we will wear. For those who do not have these things in life, the tendency is to worry about getting them. But for those who do have these things in life (as the vast majority of Americans do), the tendency is to worry about losing them. And this kind of concern is manifested toward far more than just our food and clothing. But there is a biblical balance that can offer relief from our anxiety.
When we are blessed with great wealth in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that wealth or misusing it. However, the Bible gives us this advice: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not... to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
When we are blessed to be married in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that marriage or messing it up. However, the Bible gives this advice: “Enjoy life with the wife [or husband] whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” (Eccl. 9:9) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
And, most importantly, when we are blessed to have a relationship with God in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend most of our time worrying about losing God’s grace or ruining his good favor toward us. It can become a temptation to spend our lives looking over our shoulders for God—wondering what trap he might catch us in at any moment of lapsed diligence. However, the Bible gives us this encouragement: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13) If you are the kind of person whose life is spent with an anxious view of God, please be reminded that he sincerely loves you. The fact that he came to earth as a man and died as a criminal tells us that more than anyone else ever could, God has loved every one of us. Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s awesome presence in our lives!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
Today, I was really struck by a prayer challenge and a question about it.
The challenge: pray this prayer over your children:
“God, thank you for my child. And God I pray that they will grow up to love you and serve you exactly like I do. And God I pray that they will grow up and handle their money exactly like I do. And God I pray that this child will grow up and visit the exact same websites that I do. And God I pray that this child will grow up and treat their spouse the exact way that I do. And God I pray that this child will be as industrious and hard-working as I am.”
And the question: would you want God to answer that prayer?
There are plenty of times in our lives when we wonder "What can I even do?"
In our Wednesday night Bible studies, we've been talking about coping with grief and helping our families cope with grief. In last night's class, the question was asked, "What do you do when your kids are hurting and you feel powerless to take away the hurt?"
The simple answer to that question is: you live for God. Because in reality, there are times when we just can't fix a problem. You can't always take away the hurt your children are feeling. You can't always take away the hurt your spouse is feeling. You can't always take away the hurt that YOU are feeling. But in those times when you can't do anything about the hurt, you can decide to continue living by godly principles. You can continue to show your spouse your undying and unfading love & respect. You can continue to show your children that God didn't change or fail, and so we still trust him.
Paul spoke about a thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). It was a problem that he could not fix (see vv. 8-9). And yet, in spite of the fact that he could do nothing about the problem, Paul continued to live zealously for God and do the right thing with his life. It might not have removed the problem, but it showed continuing faith in God—someone who is bigger than ALL of life's problems.
I hope you'll lean on God's strength when you can't do anything. And just keep doing the right thing.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In 2 Chronicles 26, God tells us the true story of King Uzziah. He was a good king about whom the Bible says, "he set himself to seek God" (2 Chron. 26:5). And yet we learn in the same chapter that he was faithful to God until he became strong, and then his pride got the best of him (2 Chron. 26:15-16). In his arrogance, he presumed to go into the temple and burn incense before God—a job which the Law reserved exclusively for the priests. And when the priests withstood him, he was angry at them for daring to impugn his actions.
The odd part of this story is that God strikes Uzziah with leprosy. Just for going into the temple where he wasn't supposed to be. And I admit that when I first read this story, I thought leprosy seemed a bit cruel and unusual... a bit extreme for such a benign violation of God's law. But the violation of God's law wasn't just about Uzziah's burning incense in the temple. It was about his prideful heart. And when you look the problem of pride directly, it's easy to see why leprosy is not cruel and unusual at all.
Leprosy destrys its host from the inside out. Pride does too.
Leprosy—because it destroys nerve cells—makes its host unable to feel. Pride does too.
Leprosy drives others away from its host. Pride does too.
Leprosy makes its host withdraw from others into a place (like a leper colony) that is consumed with itself. Pride does too.
Leprosy puts a block on a person's ability to stand before God and truly worship him. Pride does too.
As Christians, we would do well for the sin of pride to sound as repulsive as the disease of leprosy. God obviously makes his choices deliberately, knowing much more than we do. Make sure you're paying attention to your heart. Keep your ego in check. Keep your pride in check. Stay humbly obedient to God in everything you do in your life.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Watch today's thoughts.
In the gospel of Luke, we find the story of Jesus’ healing ten lepers. He instructs them to go and show themselves to the priest, and as they are going, they realize they have been healed! Most who read this will know that only one of them returns to give thanks to Jesus for healing him, but I want to point out the nature of this man’s thanksgiving. He came back toward Jesus, “praising God with a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15). Then when he came near to Jesus, “he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks” (Lk. 17:16).
The contrast between this man’s thanksgiving and the other nine’s lack of thanksgiving becomes immediately apparent. The one man, whom Luke tells us was a Samaritan, is excited! He is shouting praise to God, and he exhibits one of the most sincere displays of gratefulness when he bows to Jesus’ feet to thank him. On the other hand, nine others who were healed just as completely as the Samaritan continue on the road of their life.
I do not imagine that the nine were trying to be ungrateful to Jesus. I do not imagine they were men whom we would see as having evil hearts. I imagine they were so happy with their newfound wellness that they could think of nothing but enjoying that wellness! Most likely, they did not intend to be mean by walking on, but they were so caught up in their own situation that they simply forgot to be grateful.
And I wonder how many times we have done the same thing. We have all seen a child who opens a very exciting toy on Christmas morning and immediately runs off to play with it; forgetting to thank the giver of that toy. I fear we must treat God the same way at times. When his blessings are so good—when God has given us exactly what we’ve asked of him like he did for the ten lepers—we may be so caught up in enjoyment that we lose sight of gratitude.
As an example of how we should rather behave, we have the Samaritan—the one who returned to give thanks. His loud voice and his falling at Jesus’ feet are not timid, restrained signs of a stoic appreciation of Jesus’ mercy. He does not send a thank you note nor give a handshake. He quite literally lays his life out before the Lord in thanksgiving for what has been given to him. It may not dignify the Samaritan, but it fully glorifies the Lord. And this is the kind of thanksgiving God deserves from us. He has healed us, freed us, and saved us. Let us never forget to fall at his feet and thank him.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
"Do not love the world or the things in the world... the world is passing away..." (1 John 2:15, 17)
This past Sunday night, we talked about idols and the danger they pose to God's people. Idols are just broken wells—empty pits which only serve to trap and ensnare us. All idols are creations of this world. The idols of ancient cultures were made of wood or carved stone—elements which are shaped from the minds of men and which pass away with time. The idols of our modern culture are things like money, achievement, entertainment—things which are shaped from the minds of men and which pass away with time.
John's reminder that we should not love the world makes perfect sense when we think about the temporary nature of the world. It is incapable of providing lasting security, lasting joy, or lasting hope because the world itself is not lasting.
The same writer who penned the words above also wrote about Jesus as "the Word" who was with God and who was God. The same writer who tells us that the world is passing away also tells the story of the Word which is not passing away.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist