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

Please and Thank You Prayers

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.
—Philippians 1:4

Beloved, do you have a difficult time praying? Do you struggle with how to pray or what to say to God?

Personally, I do not want to keep repeating certain prayers in light of what God teaches us in Matthew 6:7: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” But the older I get, the more I find that my mind seeks the comfort of some kinds of prayers because I can easily remember them.

For example, before my feet hit the floor each day I pray something like this: Heavenly Father, thank You for a great night’s sleep and this new day. Please order the steps of my day so that in everything I say and do I glorify Your name and make You smile. On nights when I have been unable to sleep well, I start this prayer with thank You for getting me through the night. I have been praying in the morning like this for years after reading Psalm 37. I was reading the NKJV Bible at that time and verse 23 says: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” I call such prayers my “thank you prayers.”

Now, having said that, my prayer life has been majorly transformed over the last few years.

When I pray what I call “please prayers,” I am asking God to be with me or someone who is going through something particularly tough. In this case, my prayer is that God will make His presence strongly felt as He is surrounding the person with His arms of comfort and teaching them what He wants them to learn through the situation. And depending on the person and situation, I often ask Him to grant the person perfect peace as described in Isaiah 26:3, usually praying that verse with the person’s name: “You will keep _________ in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he/she trusts in You.” Sometimes I will share this personalized prayer with the person for whom I’ve been praying. This passage in Isaiah never fails to comfort me and I pray that it will comfort others too.

I have also started thanking God ahead of time while I am still praying for something, in anticipation of whatever He has planned in accordance with His will. I believe God honors this kind of prayer because although I am typically praying for something specific, I end my prayer by thanking God for however He has already planned to settle the situation.

One thing God has taught me over the years is that praying is the best way to bring us as close to Him as is possible here on earth. The other thing is that although God already knows the outcome of a situation, He still wants us to intercede in prayer, gladly approaching Him with our concerns and hurts. He longs for us to come to Him as our Abba Father, to figuratively sit on His lap and share our hearts with Him—all our concerns, yes, but more importantly our love, praise and thankfulness for who He is and for what He has done and is doing as the Creator of all things. And since He is all of that and much more, we can experience contentment in His presence, no matter what the outcome of a situation, because we can rest in the knowledge that He always knows what is best for us.

In essence, although we know and trust that God has already worked out the details, He still wants to hear from us and loves it when we praise Him and His Holy Name.

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM;”
and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,
‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
—Exodus 3:14

Our holy God, YHWH (I AM): the meaning is powerful, even when translated into English. To say “I am” means “I exist.” But as a name, it also suggests timelessness, self-sufficiency, changelessness.¹

Our God is indeed awesome, holy, and unchanging. But He also loves to hear us talk to Him in prayer and He hears us when we pray. He tells us this in Jeremiah 29:11-13:

11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
13
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Many people consider verse 11 on its own, but we need to use it in the context of God’s true meaning, which is not complete without also taking into account verses 12 and 13. God begins this passage with the word “for” and completes it with what follows the word “then” in verse 12.

Beloved, we are told to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a). Praying should be like breathing is to us. We can’t live without being able to breathe, and we can’t stay as close to God as we should without talking to Him in prayer throughout our day.

Prayer: Abba Father, we are so thankful that we can come to You in prayer at any time of the day or night. You love us so much and are interested in every aspect of our day. Thank You for the blessing of being able to depend on You to see us through each and every day. 


¹ 100 Names of God Daily Devotional. Copyright © 2015 by Christopher D. Hudson. Published by Rose Publishing, Inc., Carson, California.

Thankful Prayer for God’s Love

This is another of my devotionals published in an anthology titled Anytime Prayers for Everyday PeopleIt is included in the section titled Prayers of Praise and Thanksgiving.

When I want to thank God
for His love . . .

God’s love will continue forever.
—Psalm 52:1 NCV

This is what real love is: It is not our love for God;
it is God’s love for us in sending his Son to be
the way to take away our sins.
—1 John 4:10 NCV 

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
—Psalm 118:29

[Jesus said] God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
—John 3:16

We love Him because He first loved us.
—1 John 4:19 NKJV

. . . I will pray.

Loving Father,

I don’t get it, Lord—why You love me, that is. I look myself over, and frankly, I must not be seeing what You see. I can’t understand it. But I’ve decided that I don’t need to understand it. Why, even the nature and logic of love between human beings is seldom knowable. That’s why I’ve determined just to accept it, to let Your love cover me, change me, energize me, make me special.

I’ve read in the Bible that You love me so much that You allowed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to accept the punishment for my sins. I can’t imagine giving up one of my children for anyone—even You. I guess that’s why You’re God and I’m just a mortal human being created in Your image and loved for Your own reasons.

Thank You, Father, for Your great love for me . . . and I want You to know that Your love won’t be scorned. I love You in return. With all of my human strength, I love You. With all of my human determination, I pledge my love to You. I don’t deserve Your love, Father, but You do deserve mine. I give it freely.

Amen.

God does not love us because we are valuable.
We are valuable because God loves us.

—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


[From Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. Copyright © 2006 Bordon-Winters LLC]

Four Ways to Pray When You Feel Like Giving Up

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Four Ways to Pray
When You Feel Like Giving Up

By Colin Smith 

When we face situations of difficulty and danger we always have a choice: Should I stay or should I go? If someone is pointing a javelin at you, like Saul was at David, there’s a pretty good case for running to the hills! 

But we all know that there are times when change is appropriate. We face times when we know that God is calling us to persevere. What we need is the strength to do so. This psalm is for these times. It’s about how to pray when you feel like giving up.

Here are four ways to pray when you feel that nothing is coming of your effort, everyone is against you, and you need to find the strength to persevere.

1. Challenge the voice of fear and frustration.

How can you say to my soul “Flee like a bird to your mountain”? (Psalm 11:1) 

David received some well-meaning advice from his friends , which came out of fear and frustration.  But notice how David challenges these voices: “How can you say [these things] to my soul…?” 

In the Psalms, David not only challenges others’ voices but his own thoughts: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).  

David is speaking to himself. He is challenging himself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5). He is challenging the disturbance within his own soul.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said, “One of our main problems in the Christian life is that we spend too much time listening to ourselves and not enough talking to ourselves.” 

We spend too much time listening to the voices of fear and frustration and complaining. We need to speak to ourselves–we sometimes call this “preaching the gospel to ourselves.” There is no better place to do that than when you come into the presence of God in prayer.

Come into the presence of the Father with Jesus Christ beside you. Tell him what you are feeling and what you are hearing. Bring your worst thoughts into the open, then take yourself in hand, and challenge the voice of fear and frustration right there in the presence of God. 

2. Recognize the hand of God in the testing. 

The LORD tests the righteous… (Psalm 11:5) 

His eyelids test the children of man… (Psalm 11:4) 

Remember, when the foundations are shaken, the hand of God is in the shaking. God says, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26). 

What is God doing when he shakes the things that are familiar in our lives? God gives us the reason: He shakes the foundations so that “the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27). 

Read the rest here.

An Old Telephone

In keeping with my current prayer theme, Pat Knight has some very wise words to share with us about the power of prayer.

The trumpet-shaped hand-held listening device is suspended from a metal cradle on the side of the imposing oak cabinet. While listening to conversation with one instrument, one would talk into the protruding snout on the front of the large, antique telephone. The old, original telephone is now mounted on the wall in my parent’s home. The wood has been refinished but stress marks remain from years of use.

By the time I was enamored with the telephone in my teen years, the communication apparatus had diminished in size to a small plastic box with an all-in-one listening and speaking hand set. I was physically limited only by the length of the cord attaching the hand set to the phone box.

Today I use either a cordless telephone or a cell phone, an electronic wonder the size of a deck of cards. I can use the cordless phone throughout my house and around the yard. The amazing cell phone seems limitless with the ability to send electronic messages, click photographs, or transmit and receive messages even as we travel in a vehicle. What incredible changes have occurred during the century since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first rudimentary telephone in 1876!

IncredibleChangesInPhonesPTZ-50--AMP

The concept of a massive network of telephone cables transmitting messages between countries, traversing oceans, and penetrating remote areas would have seemed unfathomable to its original inventor. Yet, electronics have now significantly shortened the distance between people and nations. The universal 911 emergency call system, providing immediate medical response, has proved an unforeseen adjunct to the telephone.

As sophisticated as we consider our present day system of communication to be, there are still dead spots with cell phones or power interruptions with land-based telephones. Isn’t it a relief that we don’t have to depend upon a man-made device in order to communicate with God? 

Do we operate on the assumption that God is in heaven and we are on earth, creating light years of travel between us? God’s Word dispels that notion: “Those who obey His commandments live in Him, and He in them” (1 John 3:24).  The Creator spoke earth and its inhabitants into existence. He walked and talked with the first humans in the Garden of Eden. Ever since those early times, God has communicated with man and encouraged His children to talk with Him. God desires to live within our hearts, creating a unique, intimate emotional and spiritual relationship.

Our finite minds misconstrue our human boundaries with God’s omnipotence, minimizing His power. We dare not expect God to conform to our human limits. He is the Almighty God, our sovereign Lord, and supreme Creator. We are His creation. God merely speaks and His children hear His voice. Because He loves us, God desires to fellowship with each of us. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Not all of us understand the technology of sound waves, but we respond by talking. When God speaks through the Holy Spirit, we readily hear Him, although we may not fully understand the intimacy of the Trinity.

When God spoke, Elijah didn’t hear Him in the fantastic windstorm, the earthquake, or in the fire (2 Kings 19:11-12) as might be expected, but in a gentle whisper which Elijah clearly heard. God is not in the habit of shouting to converse with His children. He speaks in love and peace, just as a parent cradling a child closely speaks in a soft voice. As His children, we are attuned to the voice of our heavenly Father. “He who belongs to God hears what God says (John 8:47).

Some people may hold the view that love and verbal communication developed among men as they evolved into social beings. However, we are commanded, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God”  (1 John 4:7). God is the author of love and conversation, which He initiated with the first people He created and promises with all who follow Him. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

It is to our advantage that our conversation with God is quiet and reliable. The Holy Spirit can discern our thoughts; able to convert our mere groans into requests to God, for He hears everything we say (Romans 8:26). Occasionally interferences occur with man’s inventions, but with God there is never a loss of power or bad connections with heavenly communication. God hears and responds to every one of our prayers. “This is the assurance we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). 

Try casting your cell phone aside for a day and grasp the confidence that assures your connection to the greatest source of power in the universe. God is only a spoken word away, lovingly inhabiting our inner being, always waiting to hear from His creation.  Spend time in heavenly conversation, pouring out the needs and desires of your heart, tempered with praise and thanksgiving for your Lord and His marvelous works.

Ps46-10-StarryCometSky--AMP Over the years, as the telephone has transitioned into more sophisticated technology, usage and maintenance fees have sky-rocketed, presenting us with the opportune time for conversation with our heavenly Father, with absolutely no associated financial costs.  We need never consider prayer a burden, reminding us of the towering, imposing antique telephone, but a joyful privilege with the One who loves us with holy passion. It simply requires that we express our emotions to the God who always hears our words and answers in His precise timing.

Don’t ever hang up prematurely on your call to the Lord; keep an open dialogue. And, remember; don’t do all the talking. Listen for God’s quiet voice. Prayer, like a good phone call, is the conduit for a two-way conversation. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In the stillness, God will speak to you.

Independence Day: One Nation Under God

Independence Day, also referred to simply as July 4th, is a federal holiday here in the United States. On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed, declaring our independence from Great Britain.

Today is typically celebrated with fireworks, picnics, barbecues and family get-togethers which commemorate probably the most important day in our country’s history. As a nation, the United States of America is very blessed because of the sacrifice of all those who have fought to procure and protect our freedoms.

If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God,
then we will be a nation gone under.
—Ronald Reagan

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
—Psalm 33:11-12

Let us never forget that we are the United States of America—one nation under God —whose freedom is bought at a great price. We need to keep our country in prayer at all times. The following article was published a few years ago but is still relevant today.

Franklin Graham: How You Can Pray for America

As Americans celebrate July 4 and remember those who fought and died for our freedom, we need to take time to pray for our soldiers.

We should also pray for our national leaders. Regardless of whether we agree with our country’s policies, we have a biblical mandate to do this.

Read the rest here.