Monday, July 27, 2009

Conditional Grace

Give and take, give and take, give and take, that's "conditional grace". Somehow, Christianity has been watered down to a give and take mentality. Lord, I'm going to give you my Sunday morning and/or evening, and in return, I'm gonna take........

As a child growing up in a Christian family, I misunderstood what grace was. I could quote scripture, I could tell bible stories with accuracy, I even read the bible at least 8 times through. But in the end, they were words without understanding. I wouldn't say there was a lack of desire to understand on my part, rather, what was taught and demonstrated conflicted with what the Bible clearly says.

Every night I would lay my head on my pillow and "repent for my sins" with weeping, which is good, while I asked Jesus to "come into my heart", which was not so good. If I understood God's true grace, I would have no need to keep asking for Christ to be in my life, He'd already be there.

With a foundation of this misunderstanding of grace, I realized I never could live up to the expectations that were placed on me. The only logical thing was to run. Run as far from God as I could that still allowed me to return. Unfortunately, the further I ran, the more I believed I never could return and eventually just gave up.

This propelled me into a life of not extending that same grace. It's a be nice to me, I'll be nice to you mentality. Although I never took it to the extreme, there were areas of my life in which I would reject people because they harmed me in one way or another. Jesus tells us to "bless those that curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:28 NIV), exactly the opposite of what I became.

Why do people oppose Christianity so strongly today? Simply put, a lack of understanding. Those who profess to be Christians too often criticize those who are not. This tends to come across as extremely judgmental and it's completely justifiable for a non-believer to reject Christianity. If this is the example of Christ, then why would anyone want to follow it? I know I didn't.

There was a part of me that always longed for Truth to prevail in my life. I went away to college and lived a life of drinking and using drugs. I had a roommate that was not the typical Christian. He had long hair and listened to Christian rock, which was definitely a taboo in my family, but he was so full of grace it was unbelievable. We had some great talks and it really created a deeper desire for me to have a relationship with God. I began attending a local church in which I truly enjoyed. The pull of my environment was still strong and church going was soon postponed.

I was dating someone who I remembered called me a hypocrite. That hurt because the last thing I wanted to become was a hypocrite. Of course, this was another misunderstanding of a commonly used word. The word means, "A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess". This was not me. I never stated I was a Christian, I desired to have Truth in my life, but did not profess Christianity. It was strange that I was being called a hypocrite, but I moved on.

A few years later, I worked for a Christian man. I remember he had done something I didn't like and it had really offended me. Lo and behold, the word hypocrite was once again repeated, but this time by me. I remember the hurtful look on his face and him saying that he wasn't and that what I said was uncalled for. But I knew I was right. I moved on to another job. I tormented a poor woman who hated me from day one. She lashed at me any chance she had, and my rejection of grace spurred me on until I was swearing and throwing things at her. It wasn't a pretty picture. But what else did I know? I never knew the true meaning of grace.

If I would just be good enough, or smart enough, doggonit, people would like me. ;) This attitude had been the foundation of my walk with God and followed me throughout life.

The tipping point was when my then girlfriend (now wife) became pregnant. I was excited but I realized my life had to change. I drank and went to the bars almost every day and I was on a continuing path of self destruction, but I had enough. I remember asking God to help me and to be real in my life. I knew if I couldn't live the life for myself, I would live it for my family. Wrong attitude, but God's amazing grace used that moment to completely change my thoughts.

I now know, I live this life for Him, because I love Him. Nothing more, nothing less. His grace is so real, I couldn't begin to explain it, it's truly something one needs to experience.

At times, I still do things I shouldn't, and don't do things I should, the Bible calls this sin. The awesome part is, God never expected me to be perfect, because I am perfect in Him. Now I repent, learn from the mistakes and try not to repeat them. I don't fear losing my place in Heaven, because I have a real relationship with my Lord!

Conditional grace is no grace, it's simply a lie.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Age of Innocence

"The Age of Innocence" may provoke a remembrance of a book or movie, but for me it's much more. I had a simple reminder of the innocence of a child and how we are to live as believers in Christ.

1AT THAT time the disciples came up and asked Jesus, Who then is [really] the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2And He called a little child to Himself and put him in the midst of them, 3And said, Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all]. 4Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives and accepts and welcomes one little child like this for My sake and in My name receives and accepts and welcomes Me. (Mathew 18:1-5)

As Christians, we too often forget the simplicity that God has called us to. We try to make things so difficult, we forget the very foundation of His love and how that projects us into His purposes.

Yesterday evening, Donna and I went out to eat. My oldest daughter, Jordan, stayed home and watched the younger children. Every night, either Donna or myself will take our 2 year old, Sage, to our bed and spend about a half hour with her. We begin by reading several books, sing several songs, pray and then put her in bed. This has been the routine for several months now and it's amazing how well she goes to bed when we spend a little time with her before she lays down.

Jordan took Sage into our room and went through the routine. We always pray for God to speak to us throughout the night through dreams but also ministering angels to protect and watch over us. Near the end of Jordan's prayer, Sage was looking up at the ceiling. She said, "look Sissy!" Jordan looked and didn't see anything and said what, I don't see anything.

Sage said, "It's a person!" At this point, Jordan was confused and excited all in one breath. Jordan then asked what color the person was and Sage said, "White, with yellow hair!" Again, Jordan was shocked, but very excited at this point. Then sage said, "And he has a band". Jordan asked "band?", "Yes, a stripe!"

"What color is it?", "Purple!"

So at this point, it was over, but it's pretty clear, Sage was describing an angel!

The next morning, I probed a little further. I have ALWAYS been very careful never to lead my children with my words, but have always phrased questions in a way that would allow them to answer without my influence.

"Sage, Jordan told me you saw a person last night"

"Yes, in the sky"

"What was he doing?"

"Just watching"

"Did he say anything to you"


"What did he say?"

At this point, she just smiled really big, giggled and didn't answer me. I asked again with the same response.

"Did he tell you his name?"


"Do you remember what it was?"

Again, a big smile and giggle and no answer!

I figured that was enough and stopped probing. She wasn't going to say anymore and I didn't know how to continue without putting words in her mouth.

That night, I began to dwell on what happened. The thought of innocence really sunk in and how important it is to walk with such a purity. As a Christian, I want to do what I can for God, but I tend to forget, all He wants from me is a loving relationship. Through that relationship, I will naturally please Him and it will cause me to do the things He desires.

You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8, The Message)