“How Precious Did That Grace Appear”

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” If you have attended church with any consistency over the course of your life, then you have probably sung that line dozens of times. It, of course, is from what is perhaps the most famous hymn of all time, Amazing Grace. That song has been a Sunday morning staple for longer than any of us have been alive. The words were written by an English preacher named John Newton, and the song was first published in 1779. It’s fascinating that Amazing Grace is still just as powerful today as it was when it was first written.

I prefer old hymns to modern worship music. There’s just something about the depth of the lyrics. I will readily admit that I tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the modern stuff. However, too much of it is overly emotional for my liking. Pick any hymn that has survived the test of time and read those lyrics. What you will find is a theologically sound song that is exclaiming timeless truths of who God is and what He has done for us.

We sang Amazing Grace in church two weeks ago, and it has been stuck in my head ever since. I keep repeating the line, “How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” Any time that there is stillness or quiet in my life, that line runs through my brain. Eventually, I figured out that it was God’s gentle whisper to me. There is a reason He wanted me to hear that verse over and over again. I was forced to think about what verse means in life.

Do you remember the first moment that you believed in Christ? Maybe you were raised up in the faith and never had that one big moment but what about the first time that you truly felt the fullness of God’s love for the first time? I still remember mine.

I was raised in the church and was there almost every Sunday. I went to VBS and Sunday school growing up. The foundation had been laid for me. I started going to my church’s youth group when I was in the 7th grade, and I loved everything about it. The summer between after my 8th grade year, the youth went to the Ichthus Music Festival. They had a pastor get up on stage and offer a salvation invitation. That was the first time that I truly gave my heart to Christ. At that moment I physically felt a weight come off my chest as if my heart had been truly set free for the first time. I remember that feeling as if it just happened yesterday. At that moment, I felt just how precious God’s grace is.

That was a little over 13 years ago, which makes me feel old. Now, I’m slightly smarter, a little bit taller, and still trying to be funny. I am currently a youth pastor and doing my best to follow God, all because of that one moment at a music festival.

However, I find that I often don’t view God’s grace nearly as precious as I did in that first moment. I have become a little jaded and cynical. It’s hard not to be with everything that is happening in the world, or so I tell myself. Every day we see something come across the news that breaks our hearts. It seems as though things aren’t getting better.

It’s precisely in these moments that we need to cling on to God’s grace. We need to remember just how precious it still is. We should always be moved and in awe of God’s grace. The issue isn’t that His grace has become less precious as time has gone on, but that we have become complacent with it. Maybe we don’t view ourselves as in need of His grace as we once did. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We need His grace every moment of every day. To quote a significantly less old song written by Matt Maher, “Lord, I need you, oh, I need you/Every hour I need you.” That needs to be the cry of our hearts at all times.

We must not forget how precious God’s grace is, no matter what’s going on around us. In times when we are feeling down, take yourself back to the time when you felt God’s grace most deeply. Ask God to restore that feeling in you.

I am not an overly emotional person. In fact, I’m probably not emotional enough, but I cherish those moments when the Holy Spirit moves me to become emotional. That’s what He has done with that one little verse from Amazing Grace. He has reminded me of the fullness of His Grace and my great need for it. I hope that this blog can be a reminder for you. He loves you just as deeply at this moment as He did in that hour you first believed. May we never forget just how precious that grace is.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I have always found the story of David fascinating. From his initial anointing to be king, to his slaying of Goliath, and eventually to his prosperous reign over Israel. Everything about David’s kingship was how you would imagine a God-honoring king would lead Israel. In fact, in 1 Samuel 13:14, God calls David “A man after his own heart.” Except for one glaring succession of events in his life which is chronicled in 2 Samuel 11.

2 Samuel 11 starts off by talking about how it’s the time of the year when all the kings would go out for battle. However, David remains at home and sends out another man (Joab) to lead the army. This is the first major red flag that we see. It’s like that moment in a horror movie when the music starts to play, and you know something terrible is about to happen. Back in those days, kings would always go out to battle with their man. Can you imagine what that would look like today? David was renown for being a great warrior, that’s how he rose to fame amongst the Israelites. So it makes no sense that he would stay at home. He wasn’t being the king that he was supposed to be.

One wrong decision will eventually lead to another one. While David was at home, he looked out his window and what did he see? He saw a woman by the name of Bathsheba bathing on her roof. David thought she was beautiful. So much like we do now, he sent his friends to find out more about her. They come back and tell him that she’s married. This should be the end of that story. Adultery is and has always been against God’s design for this world. David, being a faithful man, would know not to continue to pursue this woman. However, David sends his men to bring Bathsheba to him. Then Scripture tells us that they slept together, even though she was going through her menstrual cycle purification which meant that, according to God‘s law at the time, it would make you unclean if you had sex with her.

This probably would have been the end of the story if not for the fact that Bathsheba is now pregnant. There’s no way it could have been her husband’s child because he’s off to war with all the rest of Israel’s men. Which is precisely where David should have been. She sends word to David telling him that she’s pregnant. David then begins to scheme. He has to figure out a way to get out of the responsibility of his actions. So he sends for Uriah to come home. David assumes that once Uriah is home, he will go and sleep with his wife. Thus, David could force Bathsheba to tell everybody that it’s Uriah’s child. It’s a perfect plan, what could go wrong?

What David didn’t take into account was that Uriah was an honorable and upstanding man. Uriah refused to go home because he didn’t feel that it was right for him to be at home when his brothers were out fighting. Literally the exact opposite of what David was doing. So David then decides to get Uriah drunk because he assumes that will lead him to going home and sleeping with his wife. Uriah instead chose to sleep in the servant’s quarters of the palace.

David now has to come up with a new plan. He allows Uriah to go back to the battle. He also sends word to his officers to put Uriah on the front lines and when the fighting starts, they are to pull back all the man and leave Uriah there to be killed. The officers follow their command and Uriah died fighting for his king. Then, David marries Bathsheba and protects his reputation

That’s an insane story! David goes above and beyond to protect himself. He saw something he wanted and took it; it didn’t matter who he hurt along the way. I hope that you’re disgusted by David’s actions when you hear that story. David abused his power to take advantage of Bathsheba and eventually murder her husband. This was supposed to be “A man after God’s own heart.” Instead, we see a man who just repeatedly gives into his temptations.

If I’m honest though, I see a lot of myself in David. Not that I’ve committed adultery or murdered anybody, but I can see how he fell down that rabbit hole of sin. It all starts out with one bad decision. He decided to not go to battle with his men but instead stay home. That one decision led him to make another poor decision which led to another wrong decision and before he knew it, he was in too deep. All he could focus on was how to get himself out of the situation.

There was a prophet at that time by the name of Nathan. He confronted David about what has happened. He tells him a story about a wealthy man who used his power to take something from a poor man. David was furious at hearing the story and demanded that the rich man should put to death. Nathan then dropped the bomb on David and told him in 2 Samuel 12:7, “You are the man!” Nathan is risking his life by confronting the king.

At that moment, David realized what he had done. I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have to. That moment when you know that you’ve messed up. It’s not a fun feeling. I can even imagine David’s facial expression when it all finally clicks. He has now come face-to-face with his sin. I know the exact feeling he had in his gut at that moment.

Have you ever found yourself in that situation, where you were confronted face-to-face with your sin? Now, David’s example is extreme, but we all fall into that rabbit hole of sin. We can’t even see what we’re doing because we’re so consumed with ourselves. Who knows what would’ve happened if Nathan never confronted David. I hope that each of us has people in our lives who are bold enough to confront us with our sin. If you don’t, I suggest that you find somebody. Somebody who knows you as well as you know yourself. The caveat is that you have to listen to them. It does no good to have that person if you are just going to get angry at them and ignore them. Find somebody and partner up with them to be each other’s Nathan.

Once David wraps his mind around all that he did he cries out, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). At that moment, David repents of all that he did. How does God respond? 2 Samuel 13 tells us that, “The Lord also has put away your sin.” God forgive David. David still has to deal with the consequences of his sin on this earth, but he is forgiven. That very same forgiveness that was offered to David is offered to you and is offered for all. Are you down a rabbit hole sin? Are there things in your life that aren’t lining up with God’s design? Don’t go any further, cry out like David did, repent, and be forgiven. Do you know somebody whose life is being consumed by sin? Be their Nathan and be bold enough to have that conversation with them. There is plenty of forgiveness for them too.

Let David be a reminder for you that there is forgiveness offered to you through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Little Children, Love One Another

I was sitting in my office today getting ready to write my blog post for this week when I heard the woman filling in for our office manager ask, “Who was the last disciple to die?” My ears perked up because not only did I know the answer but I also have a lot of information that I was ready to share on the subject. The last of the twelve to die was John. Not only is John the author of my favorite Gospel but I have done more research on him than any of the other disciples. So I leaped out of my seat to go show off my “vast” knowledge of the subject. How are people supposed to know how smart I am if I don’t constantly remind them? (I’m joking…for the most part)

One of the questions that I was asked was, “what year did John die.” I said that I was pretty sure that it was around 100 AD. I decided to look it up just to confirm what I was saying, and I stumbled across http://www.biblepath.com/john1.html. The last paragraph of their biography on John blew me away.

There is a church tradition, which says, that when John was evidently an old man in Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At these meetings, he was accustomed to say no more than, “Little children, love one another!” After a time, the disciples wearied at always hearing the same words, asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command,” was his reply. “And if this alone be done, it is enough!”

I immediately went to everyone else in the office and said, “You have to listen to this!” What John says literally gave me chills. “Little children, love one another… It is the Lord’s command and if this alone be done, it is enough!”

In this statement, John is summing up a couple of verses he wrote in his Gospel. Jesus was alone with His disciples at the Last Supper, this would be the last time that Jesus would share a meal with the twelve before the crucifixion. Jesus tells the Apostles in 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What makes this a new commandment? Do you remember when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:36? He replies in verses 37-40 with, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is adding a slight amendment to the second one. He has taken it above “love others as we have loved ourselves,” and made it “Love others as I have loved you.” Why is that so different?

Jesus’ love goes immeasurably above and beyond any love that we can offer, even to ourselves. Jesus loves us with a perfect love. His love is sacrificial, even to the point of death. His love is unconditional. His love is undeserved. His love is always forgiving. His love is impartial. He loved the least and the lost. He loved the unlovable. That is the type of love that we have been commanded to share. That’s how the world will know that we are His followers.

Do you love people this way? The answer is probably yes and no. We all love the people who are easy to love. We love our significant others, our families, and our friends. How about those that aren’t quite as easy to love? How about that co-worker who is always making life more difficult? What about that friend you once had that betrayed you? What about those people that have deeply hurt or offended you? How about that family member who you wish wasn’t part of your family? These people are not on the outside of that commandment.

We must love all people, no exceptions. I’m not saying, nor did Jesus, that we have to like everybody. There’s no way in the world that you’re going to like everyone you come across, but that doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from loving them. Honestly, I’m confident that there are times when Christ doesn’t like me a whole lot. Times when I have fallen into sin or am blatantly ignoring what He is telling me to do but that doesn’t change His love for me one bit. Sometimes I need tough love, but it’s love nonetheless. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, said “God will never love you any more than he does right now. But he also will never love you any less than he does right now.” Not only is that true but that is how we are to love others as well.
The love that Christ has called us to is a dangerous one. When you love all people unconditionally, you will get hurt. Don’t forget that one of Jesus’ friends sold Him out to be murdered. We are to love people not until it hurts, but even when it hurts. We are not defined as Christ followers by how much people love us, but by how much we love others.

As he was getting closer to the end of his life, the cry of John’s heart was “Little children, love one another!” That needs to be the cry of our hearts as well. Everybody is searching for love, why would we withhold it from them? Can you imagine what the world would look like if all of Christ’s followers loved others as He has loved us? The world would never be the same. It may not seem like it would have a huge impact, but as John said, “And if this alone be done, it is enough!” My friends, Christ’s love is enough.