No one living today is perfectThere are individuals and organizations that would attempt to sit in judgment and condemn women who have had an abortion.
It's Time to Embrace Grace
BY: Charles R. Swindoll
A letter from Chuck
Charles R. Swindoll
IT'S TIME TO EMBRACE GRACE
Once the media brought the whales' plight home to our living
rooms, volunteers flocked to the scene with heavy machinery and a determination
to free the stranded whales. But the volunteers' ingenuity and energy were soon
exhausted. Enter the National Guard, who swooped in with helicopters to drop
five-ton concrete blocks to break up the ice. Then, in a cooperative agreement
the United States, the Soviet Union dispatched two ice-breaking ships to
facilitate the rescue.
After three weeks of intense rescue efforts, Bonnet, and Crossbeak were finally freed. (Sadly, the third whale, Bone died before making it to safety.) This heroic and noble whale rescue sparked a sense of compassion throughout the world, but it did something else too. It revealed that people seem more willing to pitch in to save ocean-dwelling mammals then they are to join hands in rescue efforts that involve mankind.
If you don't agree, just consider the following questions. How many people would dig into their pockets to help a homeless couple stranded on the icy streets of Chicago? How many would donate their money to free a family from a New York ghetto? How many would open their homes to unwed mothers? How many would sacrifice their time and money to minister to prisoners? How many would devote themselves to sharing the gospel with all their non-Christian neighbors and colleagues?
It's a sad fact: we're often more willing to help save the whales then we are to help save human beings.
You might wonder where in the world I'm going with this story about the whales, and I'm happy to tell you. While I watched the scene and read about it in the periodicals, I noticed the irony in the trouble that we will take to set free creatures with whom we can't even communicate intelligently; but how slow we are in the family of God to set one another free from our own lists of rules, inhibitions, restrictions, and expectations! We'll spend millions to help the whales make it back to the ocean, but we'll hardly give each other room to breathe in the spiritual and theological areas in which we disagree.
If I had one wish for the family of God, it would be that we would learn to demonstrate more grace to one another in our relationships.
When I helped start a new church in Frisco, Texas, and we began to build our staff, we chose six core values. One of those values is "grace in our relationships." We understood that if we were to cooperate well as a ministry, we would have to show grace in our relationships. The full statement of that core value reads:
As a ministry devoted to communicating God's grace, we must demonstrate that same grace within our own walls. We must put this into practice through our thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity, courtesy, freedom, forgiveness, encouragement, and appreciation of others' differences as we inspire greatness in those around us.
The men and woman of my generation were not raised to be free. We were raised with lists of rules to follow. Expectations were laid on us, beginning with our parents, and then including teachers, pastors friends, and fellow church members. We weren't given any wiggly room if we wanted to be perceived as "spiritual". Rather then celebrating the differences in the body, encouraging liberty, and cutting through the ice so that we can all swim freely, authority figures tried to force us all into the same mold. We were told to "just sit there quietly and be good, little Christians" We were encouraged to act in a way that would please the pastor and allow us to gain status in the eyes of the people.
One of my spiritual goals is to never fall into that trap again. I've found that Christians can become such controlling people. Rather then freeing others and affirming their unique value and roles in the body of Christ, we tend to place them in bondage and judge them. We may be willing to travel halfway around the world to help free non-Christians from the shackles of sin, but we are pathetically slow to reach out to our own neighbors or to release our own brothers and sisters in Christ from the chains of legalism.
Though Christ has already set us free from sin through His death and resurrection, many of us remain trapped in the ice of impossible expectations, legalistic requirements, and performance-based spirituality. Instead of exerting energy to free fellow believers, we let them suffocate under the ice, never experiencing the freedom guaranteed by the blood of Christ.
Lest you think this type of control is a new disease, let me show you Galatians 2:4, where Paul writes about some non-Christians who had sneaked into the mist of the Galatian church for the purpose of controlling the people.
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
Now look at Paul's response:
But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. (2:5)
I love that! The same verse in The Message reads, "We didn't give them the time of day." If all legalists were treated like that, they wouldn't get a foothold in the local church. But because these types of people tend to intimidate others (and because so few Christians are willing to stand up to them like Paul did), they often worm their way into the church and start controlling others
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:32, 36) But those with legalistic tendencies paraphrase this verse to read, “If you wish to be free, you must be free on MY terms. You will be free if you keep the list of dos and don'ts that I give you. If you don't, you'll be marked for life, and you'll never attain a high level of spirituality"
Consider this funny but telling example:
A group of theologians was discussing predestination and free will. When the argument became heated the dissidents split into two groups. One man, unable to make up his mind which group to join, slipped into the predestination crowd. Challenged as to why he was there, he said, “I came of my own free will." The group retorted: “Free will? You can't join us!" He retreated to the opposing group and met the same challenge. "I was sent here." he answered honestly. “Get out!” They stormed. "You can't join us unless you come of your own free will." The confused Christian was left out in the cold.
We can laugh about such ridiculous examples until their truth hits us. It's these very things ----splitting hairs and judging others----that drive people miles and miles from any interest in the church or any desire to spend time with Christian people.
One of my prayers for the church worldwide is that we will become a people of grace. Every time I sniff out legalism, I confront it. Why do I do that? Because legalism ruins churches. It puts people in bondage, and it "ices them in." Their "breathing holes" become smaller and smaller as a few controlling, strong-willed people strive to get in their way. And I'm not going to let that happen.
One of the responsibilities as a spiritual shepherd is to guard the sheep from heresy, and there are few heresies worse then legalism. We do not believe in a legalistic kind of salvation; we believe salvation is by grace through faith, as the Bible clearly states. However, for some strange reason, we seem to believe in sanctification by legalism. We believe that people are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works--but spirituality? We seem to think that a person can only become spiritual by doing this or by giving up that, by hanging out with those like us and by not associating with those who say or do things we don't agree with. Nothing could be further from the truth.
LET GRACE FLOW FREELY
THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE
***LOVES TO DANCE****
***LISTENS TO "SECULAR MUSIC"****
***GOES TO THE BEACH ONE SUNDAY INSTEAD OF GOING TO CHURCH****
***DRIVES A CERTAIN CAR****
***OWNS A SECOND HOME****
***HAS A GLASS OF WINE WITH DINNER OCCASIONALLY****
***DOESN'T HAVE A QUITE TIME IN THE MORNING****
***WATCHES CERTAIN MOVIES OR TELEVISION****
***WEARS MAKEUP OR JEWELRY****
***DECIDES TO HAVE PLASTIC SURGERY****
REFUSE TO JUDGE OTHERS
"As I live, says
the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every
tongue shall give praise to God".
So then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.
Here's guideline three: Freeing others means we never assume a position we're not qualified to fill. What keeps us from being qualified to judge? Several things. Not being omniscient, we don't know all the facts. Unable to see into people's hearts, we can't read motives. Being finite, we lack "the big picture" Having poor spiritual eyesight, we live with blind spots and blurred perspectives. Most of all, being human, we are imperfect, inconsistent and subjective.
I'll give you an example, which I share to my own shame. I was slated to speak at a conference a number of years ago. On the first night, I met most of the couples who were there. It was a couple's conference, and I met one dear lady who was kind and had a lot of sweet things to say, I thanked her. I noticed then that her husband seemed somewhat sleepy and distant. He was gracious but removed from the situation.
The next morning, I began to teach. I was about ten minutes into my message when I noticed that this man was fast asleep. Normally, that doesn't bother me, but that particular day it kind of irritated me and I thought, Well, good night, I've got all these great pearls of wisdom that I'm sharing, and he's sleeping through them! I'm sure there was some pride in the way I was thinking.
By the third day, it was obvious that the man only attended my talks so he could sleep. He didn't come to listen. Before the end of the week I was thinking, Boy she has got one challenge on her hands. She always listened carefully, perched on the edge of her seat, writing things down, and drinking it all in. The last afternoon we were there, she asked me, "Could I speak with you when the meeting has ended tonight? There are some things I'd like to share." And I said "Sure, that'd be fine, I'll stick around and we'll talk." And I just knew that she had marriage problems. I just knew she would say that her husband wasn't sensitive to spiritual things, and I hoped I would have a chance to encourage her.
That evening, after pretty much everyone had left, the woman walked up to me. She said, “First of all, I want to thank you for this week." I said, "Your welcome." She said, "You see, my husband has terminal cancer." My stomach turned at that point, She said, "One of his great wishes before death was that he'd have a chance to meet you and hear you teach. You're his favorite."
I blinked through tears as I said to her, "I need to apologize. I've had a rotten attitude, and I didn't know about your husband’s situation." Of course, she understood. She was very gracious. And then she left.
I stayed there another thirty minutes all by myself. I felt so ashamed. But I learned a very important spiritual lesson that evening: I don't know enough to judge anyone else. And neither do you. You don't know why people do what they do. You think you know, but you don't. You're not God. You don't know all the pain and all the reasons behind people's action.
Does this guideline mean we must always agree with others? Certainly not, but it does mean we should be civil in our conflicts, realizing that others may be dealing with situations that we are not aware of.
Here's guideline four: Loving others requires us to express our
liberty wisely, In other words, love must rule. Our goal is not to please
ourselves----or others---- but the Lord (Corinthians 5,9,15) He is the one who
bought us with His blood.
Consequently, we shouldn't act out our lives according to what others say. Rather, we should act out our lives on the basis of out love for others because we answer to Christ (Romans 14:10). When you love someone, you adjust your life. That's a sign of growing up.
One way to show our love for others is by expressing our liberty wisely. We do that by enjoying our liberty without flaunting it.....quietly, privately, and with those of the like mind who aren't offended by the liberty.
I've known Christians who didn't mind drinking wine in public, so they would get a big bottle, pour it, and drink it while they mocked other Christians who didn't believe in drinking wine. That's not love; that's selfishness. If you don't mind a little wine, drink it. Just drink it privately, that’s your business. Don't feel like you have to explain it to me. If I was in your home and opened the refrigerator to get a drink of water, and I saw a bottle of wine there, I wouldn't say, " Oh, my gosh! I thought you were a Christian!" I'm not going to do that. You know why? What's in your refrigerator is your business.
A person of grace never rubs others' noses in his or her freedom.
A FEW ACTIONS THAT
Can I go back to Bonnet and Crossbeak for a moment? Their story reminds
us that our task is to free people, to help them to find room to grow and learn
and swim and breathe, not to plug up their windpipes. Our task is to love and
encourage other people.
I love Ruth Bell Graham's answer when asked about her role in the life of her husband, the renowned evangelist Billy Graham. She said, "My job is to love Billy; it's God's job to make him good.” May every wife and every husband remember that. It's my job to love my wife, it's God job to make her good. It's your job to love your husband or wife; it's Gods job to make them good. It's your job to love others; the rest is up to the Lord.
I'd like to conclude with a few thoughts culled from Romans 14:19:
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and building up of one another.
On the basis of this statement, consider a few actions that signify grace:
****Concentrate on things that encourage peace and assist others' growth. Filter whatever you do through this twofold grid: Is this going to encourage peace? and, is this going to hurt and offend or help and strengthen?
****Remember that the sabotaging of the saints hurts the work of God. Paul warns in Romans 14:20 not to “tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” You sabotage the saints when you flaunt your liberty, knowing that others have convictions against it. Enjoy your liberty, but enjoy it discreetly.
****Exercise your liberty only with those who can enjoy it with you. In other words, keep it private and personal. That's not deception; it's wise and necessary restraint.
****Determine where you stand, and refuse to play God in anyone else's life. By letting others be, you free yourself to give full attention to what God is trying to make of you. When you're totally absorbed with that, you won't have the time or the energy to meddle in someone else's life.
Romans 14 is not about issues central to the faith, but about peripheral things like meat sacrificed to idols and the observance of religious days. Paul's point is that these peripheral issues shouldn't cause division. The body of Christ should feature both unity and diversity. The church incorporates not only a diversity of gifts (1 Corinthians 12), but a diversity of personalities and opinions (Romans 14). We're all different, yet we're all one.
IT'S TIME TO EMBRACE GRACE!
All of my life you have treated me so well—better then I deserve. Forgive me, Father, for dragging around the hang-ups of the past, always expecting things to be the same as they were before, and then seeking my will rather then Yours. Thank You for straightening out my confusion, for being patient with me, for longsuffering, and for teaching me every situation.
Help me to be like You, Father, and no longer like a child. Help me to quit comparing and to stop controlling. Give me an understanding, Lord, of what it means to provide room to let people be – especially for those who are so sincere, so zealous, and so well-meaning, though they don’t realize how legalistic they’ve become. Lord, forgive me for my ugly blind spots where I rely on hints and sarcasm and even inappropriate humor to get my way. Help me to grow up as I grow older. And may we all be like that.
I pray for this for Jesus’s sake, Amen.
I dreamed I was in heaven
Where an angel kept God’s book.
He was writing so intently
I just had to take a look.
It was not, at first, his writing
That made me stop and think
But the fluid in the bottle
That was marked eternal ink.
This ink was most amazing,
Dark black upon his blotter
But as it touched the parchment
It became as clear as water.
The angel kept on writing,
But as quickly as a wink
The words were disappearing
With that strange eternal ink.
The angel took no notice,
But kept on writing on and on.
He turned each page and filled it
Till all its space was gone.
I thought he wrote to no avail,
His efforts were in vain
For he wrote a thousand pages
That he’s never read again.
And as I watched and wondered that
This awesome sight was mine,
I actually saw a word stay black
As it dried upon the line.
The angel wrote and I thought I saw
A look of satisfaction.
At last he had some print to show
For all his earnest action.
A line or two dried dark and stayed
As black as black can be,
But strangely the next paragraph
Became invisible to see.
The book was getting fuller,
The angel’s records true,
But most of it was blank, with
Just a few words coming through.
I knew there was some reason,
But as hard as I could think,
I couldn’t grasp the significance
Of that eternal ink.
The mystery burned within me,
And I finally dared to ask
The angel to explain to me
Of his amazing task.
And what I heard was frightful
As the angel turned his head.
He looked directly at me,
And this is what he said…
I know you stand and wonder
At what my writing’s worth
But God has told me to record
The lives of those on earth.
The book that I am filling
Is an accurate account
Of every word and action
And to what they do amount.
And since you have been watching
I must tell you what is true;
The details of my journal
Are the strict accounts of YOU.
The lord asked me to watch you
As each day you worked and played.
I saw you as you went to church,
I saw you as you prayed.
But I was told to document
Your life through all the week.
I wrote when you were proud and bold,
I wrote when you were meek.
I recorded all your attitudes
Whether they were good or bad.
I was sorry that I had to write
The things that make God sad.
So now I’ll tell the wonder
Of this eternal ink,
For the reason for its mystery
Should make you stop and think.
This ink that God created
To help me keep my journal
Will only keep a record of
Things that are eternal.
So much of life is wasted
On things that matter not
So instead of my erasing,
Smudging ink and ugly blot…
I just keep writing faithfully and
Let the ink do all the rest
For it is able to decide
What’s useless and what’s the best.
And God ordained that as I write
Of all you do and say
Your deeds that count for nothing
Will just disappear away.
When books are opened someday,
As sure as heaven is true;
The Lord’s eternal ink will tell
What mattered most to you.
If you just lived to please yourself
The pages will be bare,
And God will issue no reward
For you when you get there.
In fact, you’ll be embarrassed,
You will hang your head in shame
Because you did not give yourself
In love to Jesus’ name.
Yet maybe there will be a few
Recorded lines that stayed
That showed the times you truly cared,
Sincerely loved and prayed.
But you will always wonder
As you enter heaven’s door
How much more glad you would have been
If only you’d done more.
For I record as God sees,
I don’t stop to even think
Because the truth is written
With God’s eternal ink.
When I heard the angel’s story
I fell down and wept and cried
For as yet I still was dreaming
I hadn’t really died.
And I said: O angel tell the Lord
That soon as I awake
I’ll live my life for Jesus-
I’ll do all for His dear sake.
I’ll give in full surrender;
I’ll do all he wants me to;
I’ll turn my back on self and sin
And whatever isn’t true.
And though the way seems long and rough
I promise to endure.
I’m determined to pursue the things
That are holy, clean and pure.
With Jesus as my helper,
I will win lost souls to Thee,
For I know that they will live
With Christ for all eternity
And that’s what really matters
When my life on earth is gone
That I will stand before the Lord
And hear Him say, well done.