Saved by Grace

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5)

What can happen if you forgot to close the gate in your back yard and you let the dog out? You were 99% sure you closed it. What might happen if you are 99% sure you turned the stove off before you left the house? We don’t like to be less than 100% sure of something; it makes us uncomfortable that something bad can happen.

That’s why we really like the word GRACE. For five centuries the Lutheran church has focused on the fact that the Bible tells us very plainly that we are saved by grace. God tells us that he has done everything for our salvation and he gives eternal life to us as a free gift—there is nothing we have to do for it. This is an amazing message of good news!

However, the proclamation of God’s Word wasn’t always clear. For many years the message of the Bible was not made available to everyone. People went to church, they confessed their sins, they heard the priest tell them to go and do certain things and then maybe, hopefully they might make it into heaven. How would people ever know if they did enough, or if they were good enough? They were led to believe that Jesus’ life and death were not enough; they still had to contribute in some way for their salvation. Even after they died, someone still might need to do something to help them finally reach heaven. Imagine the doubt.

The Word of God removes all doubt about our salvation. The Bible teaches us: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Salvation does not depend on what we do, but entirely on what Jesus Christ came to do for us.

Jesus had great mercy on us. In his love he died the death we deserved and rescued us from our sins. By faith in him as our Savior, we have complete confidence of eternal life in heaven.

This is the main message of the Bible that we preach and teach in the Lutheran church. We are saved by grace through Jesus. Please come and hear it for yourself.

What is My Purpose in Life?

“What is my purpose in life?” is a question that gets replayed over and again at every stage of life. College students rack their brains trying to determine their purpose in life as all sorts of philosophies are spread out before them like food at a restaurant buffet. Empty nesters restart the quest when their children have moved out. As their health and abilities decline, the elderly often wonder what purpose they still have.

Have you found your purpose in life?  It is a question that is always demanding an answer.  It is always there haunting us, confusing us, bewildering us.  For many it is a painful question because the answer has eluded them.

The reason why so many of us struggle to find purpose in our lives is because we keep looking to the wrong person for the solution.  While it seems to make sense to look inwardly for our answer, we won’t find anything more than a mirage, a grasping at the wind.

Jesus helps us look beyond ourselves to find our purpose.  You see, our purpose in life is a combination of “out of this world living” and “living our lives for others.”  Jesus states our purpose for us in a book of the Bible called Matthew.  In Matthew 22:37 and following, Jesus unveils that purpose.  He removes the smoke and mirrors.  He states our purpose with crystal clarity.  He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  He then goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  With these words Jesus directs us to live for God and for others!

Do you want contentment in your life?  Then discover or rediscover God by getting to know him and love him personally through the good news of the Bible.  Be strengthened through his means of grace, found only in his Word of life (the Bible) and his sacraments of Baptism and Communion.  Safeguard your soul as it yearns for the one who loves you more than you can imagine (Jesus).  Use your mind to seek out ways to serve God and to serve others.  Living with God’s purpose as your reason for living is living a life of amazing adventure!

How do I make a decision for Christ?

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. I remember standing over a college application, trying to decide what area of study to enter. I remember lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide if the car I had just test-driven would be my first car. I remember staring at dozens of real estate listings and actuary tables, trying to decide which house, if any, would be my first home.

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. Whether or not you’re the same way, I think we would both agree that we want the right to make them. We want to be able to chart our own course, to succeed or fail on our own.

So what about Christ? When we talk about making a decision for Christ, we are talking about the most important decision of all. Our attitude toward Christ has an impact that lasts longer than a four-year college, longer than the life of a car, even longer than a thirty-year mortgage. We’re talking about eternity here. So it’s understandable for us to be concerned about this important decision.

But interestingly enough, this is one that we have no ability to make. The apostle Paul spelled out the truth clearly in a letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Paul said that by nature human beings are “dead … in sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He meant that, left to ourselves, you and I have the same ability to make a decision about Christ as a dead body has to make a decision about a college, a car, or a house. Absolutely no ability at all.

As much as not having a choice is very distasteful, in this case it is good news. It means that life’s most important questions don’t start with the words, “How do I…” Those questions always lead to doubt and uncertainty – things that none of us wants when we’re talking about eternity. Life’s biggest questions are not directed inward. They are directed to one who is outside of us. Questions like, “Does God love me?”

And the answer to that one is easy. In spite of the fact that we have sinned against him, in spite of the fact that we have treated him and the people around us as supporting actors in a drama that is first and foremost about me, yes, God still loves me. In fact, the Bible says, “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). “The world” is all-inclusive. God loves us all, no exceptions.

You won’t find your name in that passage. But ask yourself this: when God tells you how much he loved the world, how he sent his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world, how he has done everything needed for the salvation of the world, does that also include you?

A “yes” is the answer of faith. But realize that a “yes” does not indicate that you made a decision for Christ. There’s much better news. God made a decision for you. In that same letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The decision about Christ is more firm and more certain than the very foundations of the world. And for that very reason, that decision was made by him, not us.

Am I Too Far Lost to Be Saved?

Am I too far lost to be saved?

That depends on your point of view. Are you looking at it from your standpoint or are you looking at it the way God looks at it?

From a human viewpoint, we’d probably conclude that we are too far lost to be saved. We don’t like hopeless causes. We are reluctant to keep throwing good money and time into a bottomless pit. If it is too much of a stretch, if there’s too much damage to undo, if there is too much effort that will be needed day after day to get someone to heaven, I think we’d sometimes say that person (maybe it is us!) is too far lost to be saved.

But God doesn’t look at things like that. He doesn’t look at our liabilities. He looks at his possibilities. With God, all things are possible.

Over and over again God emphasizes his love and forgiveness to all people. Jesus showed this even in his choice of disciples. One of his followers, Matthew, had been a tax collector, working for the hated Romans. He had been kicked out of the synagogue long ago. As he sat in his tax booth collecting money for the Roman occupation forces, teachers in the synagogue would often come by and tell him he was going to hell. “Don’t even bother coming to worship—it’s not going to do you any good, because you’re going to hell; you are too far lost to be saved.” The only people who would associate with Matthew were other tax collectors and prostitutes. The beaten and the damned—that was his gang.

Then one day Jesus showed up and told Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew did. He dumped that dead-end job for one that offered heavenly benefits. Matthew was excited that someone, instead of telling him he was going to hell, told him that God loved him and had a spot in heaven waiting for him. He was so excited that he wanted his friends to meet Jesus, too, but the only way he could get them to take time out to talk to a “religious” person was to throw his own going away party! (Matthew 9:9-13)

They all got to talk with Jesus, even though the same people who had delighted in telling Matthew he was going to hell now turned their nose up at Jesus for stooping to talk to the beaten and the damned.

It’s not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Our God is so filled with love and mercy that he seeks out the sick, those who feel they are too far lost to be saved. For with God, no one is too far lost to be saved.

What Is Sin?

The apostle John wrote: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” ( I John 3:4).  The apostle directs us to the law of God, not man-made rules and traditions, and teaches that whoever fails to do what God commands or does what God forbids is guilty of sin.

But what does God say in his law?  What does he command?  What does he forbid?  We might look at a list such as: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony … the Bible, of course, does this in the 10 Commandments.

Jesus, however, summed up God’s law this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … and … love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37f.).  Jesus’ reminder that God demands love reminds us that God’s law deals not just with outward actions like murder, adultery or stealing, but also condemns as sinful matters of the heart like hatred, lust and greed.

If even impure desires and unclean thoughts are sinful in God’s eyes, it’s no wonder that the apostle Paul heaps up all people on one big pile and says: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22,23).  Paul means that there is no one who has ever achieved the perfection God demands inside and out, and so no one can expect God on the day he judges all people to say: “Way to go, you did everything I required you to do and you did it perfectly.”  Instead, we can only expect to hear God say: “Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).  For the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

So far the news about sin is only bad.  But there is good news for sinners.  The good news is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).  God knew we couldn’t save ourselves by living a sinless life—so he sent his Son to do that for us and credits his obedience to us (Romans 5:19).  And because God in his love didn’t want us die eternally in hell for our sins, he sent Jesus to die for us on the cross and suffer the punishment for sin we deserved.  When God raised Jesus from the dead, he proclaimed that his work was complete and our sins were forgiven.

What wonderful news for people who know their sins and the punishment they deserve for their sins to have the Bible point us to Jesus and hear the Bible say: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life!” (John 3:16).

What is a Christian Worldview?

Sam and Harry are two brothers who are able to see eye to eye on just about everything. But every August, it seems that they have a hard time agreeing on anything. Whenever football season starts up, Sam and Harry are always at odds. Though these two men had been born brothers, they grew up rooting for different teams. And whenever their rival teams play each other, Sam and Harry leave the stadium with very different views of the same game.

In many ways, Christians and non-Christians are able to see eye to eye when it comes to the ways of the world. Most people, no matter what their beliefs may be, like to be treated fairly, to have a feeling of personal security, and to have a sense of purpose in life. There are times, however, when a Christian’s view of this world can be very different than their neighbor’s. Often, it’s the joys and woes of daily life that demonstrate the differences. Whether celebrating a milestone, or coping with a disappointment, or even facing death, Christians and non-Christians can think, talk, and act very differently.

What makes a Christian ‘tick’? Why do believers look at their world with such a different perspective? The answers to these questions reveal what Christian faith is all about. While the world around them believes in things like fairness, decency, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, a Christian believes in the God who is this world’s Maker, Savior, and Counselor. Simply by speaking the words of a Creed, every Christian makes a powerful statement of who they really are—not only in relationship to their world, but also in relationship to the God whose world it is.

When a non-Christian sees a lifetime’s worth of achievements as the sum total of hard work or as simple dumb luck, the Christian sees the hand of God. When a non-Christian sees a world filled with madness and uncertainty, the Christian sees a world for which Christ died. When a non-Christian struggles to see their purpose in life and where they ought to fit in the world, the Christian sees God’s own Spirit at work.

Christians confess their faith in God. “This is the God who made me what I am, gives me what I have, and who holds this whole world in his hands!” Even if Christians and non-Christians can’t see the world eye to eye, the truth of God is always in view.

I’m not perfect; I make mistakes. So what?

In 2013, the Florida State Seminoles were celebrated as college football’s BCS Champions after completing a perfect 14-0 season. In the long history of Major League Baseball, only 23 pitchers have tossed a perfect game. Each of those 23 pitchers is widely celebrated for accomplishing one of baseball’s rarest individual feats. In 2009, USA Today reported that a Michigan teen got a perfect score on her ACT–and her SAT–and her PSAT! She was rewarded with a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University.

If perfection is so celebrated because of its rarity, should the opposite be true as well? Should imperfection be condemned? I mean, if perfection is considered the rarest of all feats, shouldn’t it be considered acceptable if the rest of us don’t achieve such a vaunted status? Nobody’s perfect at life! We all make mistakes. Who cares?

God cares. While imperfections are an accepted part of life for us, they are not acceptable to our God. Imperfections run contrary to the way God intended this world to function. When he finished his work of creation, God was pleased to know that everything worked in harmony. There were no imperfections; “God saw all that he made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Our imperfections are therefore an offense to our perfect creator God. They are not excused; they are not overlooked. They are punished for the offense that they are.

Sure, nobody’s perfect. That’s why we need someone to be perfect for us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yes, Jesus Christ who had no sin or imperfection became our imperfection so that he might receive all of the punishment that we deserved, paying for it all by his death on the cross. In return, he grants us the perfection that we could not achieve on our own. In Christ we become “the righteousness of God.”

As much as we celebrate individual accomplishments of perfection–the perfect season, the perfect game, or the perfect test score–how much greater can we celebrate the perfection that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ! In Christ you are perfect; believe it! Celebrate it! Live it!

How do I find God?

How do you find Atlanta?  You could go to a public library and ask for a map.  You could surf the internet for road directions.  You could ask a family member for help.  Or you could use Global Positioning System’s navigational technology.  This technology is now standard equipment in many new cars or on-sale at most electronic stores.  Using  satellites positioned many miles above the earth that transmit signals to earth-based GPS units to determine location and direction, GPS helps us get from point A to point B.

A GPS can give you step-by-step directions to Los Angeles.  But a GPS can’t help you with life’s most basic question: “How do I find God?”  Many people ask this question during a personal crisis that causes us to look for explanation, comfort, or relief.  Like looking for road directions, you could go to your public library and ask for books on religion – but there are so many religions that claim to be true even though logically not all of them can be.  You could Google for God – but when you do, you will come up with 356,000,000 pages — most of which raise more questions than they answer.  Or you could ask a family member for advice about how to seek God – but you probably did that already and feel more confused.  Or you can use technology already trusted by millions of people for thousands of years.  This technology is not available as standard equipment or on sale from any electronic stores.  Yes, it is a different type of GPS known as God Positioning System.  This spiritual GPS is simply reading a book known as the Holy Bible.  Year after year, more people buy the Bible, read the Bible, trust the Bible, and are inspired by the Bible more than any document on earth.  That’s because God himself gave us this book to seek him.  It’s a road-map … a road-map to heaven.  The Bible is more accurate and trustworthy than any Global Positioning System.

This spiritual GPS informs us that every person is wired to search for God, but God isn’t the one lost.  Spiritually, we are. Because of our personal sins we are lost eternally.  Hopeless and helpless, we need accurate directions to help us find a fulfilling life now and an eternity in heaven.  Simply opening the Bible activates this special spiritual kind of GPS as we start to read the words and apply them to our personal lives.  As we read these words of fact and reality, we soon find that the Bible’s central person is Jesus Christ, God’s own Son and our human brother who tells us all that we need to know about God.  Jesus tells us simply to believe that he lived a perfect life in our place, died the death we deserved on a cross, and rose physically from the grave to guarantee every believer an eternal life in heaven.  We find God as we believe in Jesus as the Savior.  As we review the pages of the Holy Bible, God also assures us that he will give us his unlimited Holy Spirit to help us believe what our limited human minds couldn’t possibly understand–that God loves us and also has a plan for our lives right now.

But this Spiritual GPS, the Bible, also directs us to a local Bible-believing, Jesus-centered church.  Talk with a pastor, get involved in a regular worship service and Bible study, apply the words of the Bible to your life.  Taste and see that the LORD is good.  Earth-based GPS has it’s limitations:  it needs a power source and doesn’t work if it’s antenna is blocked.  But God’s GPS, the Bible, works anytime, anywhere.  So use it.  Believe it.

How do I know my faith is real?

There are different tests documented to determine that which is real and that which is not. People have bitten into gold coins, pinched themselves, and examined official papers to determine authenticity. The training the United States Secret Service undergoes in their quest to insure that our paper currency is real can serve as an example for answering this question.

The U.S. Secret Service needs to know if a hundred dollar bill down to a one-dollar bill is real or counterfeit. To help them spot that which is not real, the agents are placed into a room with only the real currency. They are to touch it, feel it, examine it, and scrutinize it, until they know exactly what real United States paper currency is. They train themselves to know what is real and in so doing they can spot that which is not.

Real faith is based on the Word of God. The Bible tells us faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes from the Bible. So to know if faith is real, one should immerse oneself in the Scriptures to see what they say about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Examining the Scriptures can take many different forms. Weekly attendance in church to hear the pastor proclaim the truths of God’s Word is a start. Joining a Bible study group to spend time asking questions and receiving answers on sections of Scripture is another. A third and personal way is to take time daily to read from God’s Word, to meditate on the thoughts and to pray about its meaning.

Real faith is given to us by God the Holy Spirit as we study God’s Word. The foundation of this faith is Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who died to take all our sins away and then rose again to assure us of everlasting life. This is real, because the Bible tells us so.

Should I expect a special message from God?

When I was in college, a friend of mine grew uneasy. Should he keep dating Wendy, his long-time girlfriend, or did God have a better plan with someone else?

John decided to ask God for a sign.

Since he and Wendy enjoyed playing cribbage, a card game, he prayed something like this:

“God, if you don’t want me to date Wendy anymore, please give me a 29 hand.”

In cribbage, 29 is the most points you can score on your own with the five cards in your hand. The odds of getting a perfect 29 hand in a 2 player game are 1 in 216,580.

John got a 29.

Then John felt even more confused. Was God giving him a sign in answer to his prayer? Or was it all just an against-all-odds coincidence? Was the devil involved?

Neither of us knew. We all should know that God is a) under no obligation to tell people anything and b) not in the habit of providing direct verbal answers to prayers via, say, skywriting – John, break up with Wendy.

Yet couldn’t we ask God for a sign, at least occasionally? Hasn’t God ever given people signs?

Yes. God appeared to Abraham with a smoking firepot and a blazing torch to give him a sign (Genesis 15:8-17)

The LORD gave signs such as a staff that turned into a snake and a hand that turned leprous to help Moses reassure the Israelites (Exodus 4:1-9).

Gideon asked for and received a sign of a fleece that was dry while the ground all around it was wet with dew. The next morning the reverse happened (Judges 6:17, 36-40).

God showed King Hezekiah that he would not die from a dread disease; God made a shadow go backwards ten steps on a stairway (2 Kings 20:8-11).

On the other hand, Jesus orders us not to test God (Matthew 4:7). We should never demand a sign or message from God while thinking that if God fails to come through, we will refuse to honor him.

We should also never ask God for a sign about something he has forbidden. Don’t pray, then, “God, if you want me to move in with my boyfriend before we’re married, please do this or that.”

Instead, recall what Moses told the Israelites, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Unpack that:

  • God keeps secrets. There are many things he won’t tell you, even if you ask.
  • God has uncovered many things to us in the Bible. Confused? Facing a tough decision? Read and treasure God’s Word (Psalms 23 or Psalm 25 are great places to start). God’s Word lasts forever.
  • Whatever God has uncovered in the Bible will lead us to obey all God has told us to do. No Bible verse will lead us to disobey God.

What happened to John and Wendy, by the way? They broke up. Both later married other persons and had children. They remain happily married. Above all, they trust Jesus as their Savior.