Outrageous Grace

Outrageous Grace

By Lee Strobel

“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead. You can tell me.”

He sighed. “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore. We were really surprised because she’s a good kid. Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious. “Sure,” I said. “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied. “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution. We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down. The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair. Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl. As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering. “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.” Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it. And I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart. “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her. “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders. I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence. I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars. I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars. Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes. Her mind was whirring. Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars? That’s a mountain of money for a little kid. She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk. Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer. The little girl’s eyes narrowed. She couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed. I tore off the check and held it in my hand. Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her. “So I’m going to pay it for you. Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her. “Because I care about you. Because you’re important to me. And please remember this: that’s how Jesus feels about you too. Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart. She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder. She was almost giddy with gratitude. The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life. But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure. The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame. We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven. Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace? “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Wow! When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. At the same time I feel a renewed desire to let others know about this incredible message of redemption and reconciliation. After all, with good news like that, how could we possibly keep it to ourselves?


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

By Colin Smith

It may be in a hospital or at some other moment of crisis, but at some time most people feel that they want to pray. That is true of thousands and millions of people who would never darken the door of a church.

Here is something that the church has to offer. Christian people have something that at some point, most people in our community and in our country will feel that they need—to pray. Christians know how to pray, or at least we should.

But do we know why we pray? Here are seven reasons we pray which are meant to encourage you in your pursuit of Jesus Christ.

1. Pray, because Jesus is our great high priest.

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14)

If I have to engage in an important conversation, I am often grateful to have someone else with me. Is there someone who can come with me who knows the person I will be meeting better than I do?

Remember this is how Moses felt when God sent him to speak to Pharaoh. God sent Aaron with him. Aaron was the High Priest. Who will go with us when we go into the throne room, not of Pharaoh, but of Almighty God?

Hebrews says “we have a great high priest…” Think about this: Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for us. When you pray, you ascend by faith into heavenly places, where Christ is.

Christ is next to the Father, and when you pray, you are next to Christ. He is there for you, and when you speak, he is there with you! He is there, endorsing what you’re saying, placing his name under what you’re asking.

You can come to the Father with Jesus beside you. He is there to support you in your prayer, to back you up in what you are saying, to agree with your prayer because it has already been his own.

2. Pray, because Jesus knows what life is like. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) 

You can’t bring anything to Jesus that will shock him. Nothing that you face is surprising to Jesus. You don’t need to hide anything from him. Think about the humanity of Jesus: He worked in a shop. He grieved. He saw darkness unleashed like no one else ever has. 

3. Pray, because God invites us to his throne of grace. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. . . (Hebrews 4:16) 

Bunyan says, “God has more than one throne…” The throne of grace is very different from the throne of judgment. God invites you to come to the throne of grace! How often would you want to pray, if you knew you were coming before the throne of judgment? 

Read the rest here.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is very powerful. God loves to hear us pray, and in fact, we are instructed to pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

For the next few weeks, I will be talking and sharing articles about the importance of prayer. The quote in the image above is from Pat Knight, who shared it with me in an email a few years ago when we were talking about prayer. 

Simply put, prayer is an ongoing conversation with God.

There are many things we can pray about. We can praise God in our prayers. We can thank Him for who He is, for His provision, and for His love, mercy, grace, and other attributes. We can just simply talk to Him about our day and tell Him how much we love Him, and we can ask Him for help with anything in our lives because nothing is to small for Him to handle.

Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus, our great high priest, completely understands what we go through because He experienced the same things when He lived on earth as a human being:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,
Jesus the Son of God,
let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
 
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,

so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help us understand the importance of prayer because it is what You tell us to do. We long to be closer to You in every way, and we know that will happen as we learn the mighty power of prayer. Guide us through Your Spirit as we study this important part of being Your children. We trust in You in all things, and so we thank You in advance for what You will reveal to us in the coming weeks. We pray these things in the beautiful name of Jesus Christ, Your Son and our Savior. Amen.

Who Was John the Apostle?

Today I’m sharing from Overview Bible.

Who Was John the Apostle?

By

The Apostle John (also known as Saint John) was one of Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples, and a prominent leader in the early Christian church. Along with James and Peter, John was one of Jesus’ closest confidants, so he appears in more biblical accounts than the other disciples. 

John is traditionally regarded as the author of five books of the Bible: the Gospel of John, the epistle1 John2 John, and 3 John, and the Book of Revelation, although some Bible scholars dispute which of these (if any) he actually wrote. He is also believed to be the only disciple who died of old age (the others were allegedly martyred).

Ancient sources may or may not refer to the Apostle John by several other names including John of Patmos (because he was banished to the island of Patmos), John the Evangelist, John the Elder, John the Presbyter, and the Beloved Disciple, though it is unclear if all (or any!) of these names do in fact refer to this John. It’s also worth noting: John the disciple of Jesus is not the same person as John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin.

So who was the Apostle John? What do we really know about him? We’re going to explore what the Bible says about him, what we can draw from other ancient sources, and the things we still don’t know for sure.

For starters, here are some quick facts about this well-known biblical figure.

Read the rest here.

The Greatest Archaeological Discovery of the 20th Century

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

The Greatest Archaeological Discovery of the 20th Century:

An Interview with a Renowned Expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Justin Taylor

Since 1991Weston W. Fields (PhD, Hebrew University) has been the executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation as well as the director of Dead Sea Scrolls Publications. Brill has published his 600-page monograph, The Dead Seas Scrolls: A Full History, along with his The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short HistorySince 1999 he has traveled throughout the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, interviewing all of the first generation of Dead Sea Scroll scholars who were then still alive, including those who discovered scrolls in the 1950s or were the first to examine and reconstruct them.

The following interview is adapted with permission from an article he wrote for the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation website.


How significant was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered by many to be the single most important archaeological manuscript find of the 20th century.

How many documents are we talking about?

They represent more than 1,400 original documents, some complete or nearly complete (such as the Great Isaiah Scroll), but many quite fragmentary. There are about 100,000 fragments in all.

How big did the scrolls get?

Some of the larger scrolls stretch as long as 30 feet. The Isaiah scroll is approximately seven meters long (23 feet) and is made up of 17 parchment sheets, sewn end to end.

Read the rest here.

No Good, No More

No Good, No More  

 By Pat Knight

It is a familiar sight during the spring clean-up season in Maine to observe small trailers bumping and squeaking along behind personal vehicles, transporting fallen tree and yard debris to the local compactor site. From the monumental piles of deteriorating natural matter, gardeners will eventually back their trailers up for a load of rich, composted material to be used as organic fertilizer. 

In our disposable world-view, there is little that has not been discarded for a superior model. Vehicles, houses, and large equipment depreciate with time until they are trashed, torn down, or sold for scrap metal. Although most communities have embraced a vigorous recycling program, it will take many more decades of reduce/recycle/reuse efforts to clean our environment and find beneficial solutions for all cast away materials. 

To believe unborn humans are disposable is undefendable. God creates each person in His own image, setting the birth and death dates in advance. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Men have chosen to disregard their Creator’s authority by promoting abortion and physician-assisted suicide.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me where written in your book before they came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 15- 16). The combination of facts is not happenstance. God alone sovereignly creates and perpetuates our lives.

That which God has revered, man has despised. God appoints the length of each person’s life; mankind has struggled to capture the decision-making. As humans place a stranglehold on determining life span, we are rejecting God’s omnipotence; ignoring God’s supreme power and authority. God knows all things before they happen. He knew us before we were born; all our days were ordained before conception.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart”
(Jeremiah 1:5).

God creates all life on earth. From one cell to a complex organism equipped to maintain life independently, God oversees our growth and development. He establishes physical and emotional life and breathes a soul into our being. When a life is devalued and destroyed by man before birth, there is rarely justification for the action. God grieves when His children are cast aside or thrown away. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). We are God’s dwelling place where He resides in our hearts as an integral part of our lives. To destroy life is an offense that is punishable by God.

“You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by the human race” (Psalm 12:7-8). God clearly calls men wicked who distort His laws and purposes. “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8b). Our lives are not our own; we are children of the living, loving God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile. Do these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord” (Psalm 14:1, 4). It is unconscionable to disdain the exalted.

Oh, how depraved the human heart that guides hands to scrape a fetus from inside its protected, warm, life-sustaining womb, tossing the body parts aside with an arrogant attitude toward God who has assigned life! “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).

The growing perceived need to legally allow suffering people to end their lives prematurely is a dangerous movement. God is actively involved in every aspect of our lives, desiring what is best for us. He loves us beyond measure. He promises safety and protection for believers, but nowhere in God’s Word is the believer promised an easy life. We are told to expect hardship, suffering, and persecution. At times God allows us to experience trials to teach us to lean upon Him for strength; silencing our motors of everyday activity; setting us aside for a period of time so we can best hear His voice and focus on a closer walk with Him. 

Eliminating a life to assuage pain is not the answer to physical or emotional agony. God promises His presence, His help, and His comfort. Jude tells us that there are “‘Ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). Wickedness prevails where God does not reside in hearts.

We will face no affliction that Jesus did not experience when He ministered on earth. Our Savior prayed so earnestly and agonized so completely the night before His crucifixion that “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). An angel appeared from heaven to lavish Jesus with the strength to suffer humiliation, abuse, and pain to redeem mankind on the cross. Now our Savior advocates for us during our trials.

Just as God sent an angel to empower Jesus, He promises to exchange our weakness for His strength, interceding for us in the same manner in which He did for His Son. Unlimited power and strength are available simply by asking. A call to God for help brings answers every time. His angels still minister to us today.

Though it will require a collaborative effort to clean up the environment by recycling disposables, the human body need not be among them. In spite of pain or inconvenience we may experience, we serve a God who loves and cares for us, who promises to provide spiritual victory to comfort suffering. “He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone” (Lamentations 3:32-33). What a resource and a safety net for us when we are hurting! Pray for God’s help, for He will always provide that which He promises.

Who Was the Apostle Paul?

Today I’m sharing from Overview Bible.

Who Was the Apostle Paul?

By

The Apostle Paul was one of the most influential leaders of the early Christian church. He played a crucial role in spreading the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) during the first century, and his missionary journeys took him all throughout the Roman empire.

Paul started more than a dozen churches, and he’s traditionally considered the author of 13 books of the Biblemore than any other biblical writer. For this reason, Saint Paul is often considered one of the most influential people in history. He had a greater impact on the world’s religious landscape than any other person besides Jesus, and perhaps Muhammad.

But before he was known as a tireless champion of Christianity, Paul was actually known for persecuting Christians. The Book of Acts tells us that Paul was even present at the death of the first Christian martyr—where he “approved the stoning of Stephen” (Acts 8:1).

Over the last two millennia, countless books have been written about Paul and his teachings. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the basics of what we know—and don’t know—about this important biblical figure.

Read the rest here.