Pastor’s Corner

Greetings in the name of the Lord! 

Reformed by Grace

Today is Reformation Sunday. It has become an opportunity for all non-Catholic churches to celebrate their history that Luther and then others led in a break from the Roman influence in Europe. Over the next few minutes I want to share with you how I have been reformed over time into the person standing here today.

Grace by definition: Smoothness and elegance of movement. An attractively polite manner of behaving. I will tell you I’ve never been told I have a smoothness or elegance of movement about me. Take a look, am I the poster child for graceful movement? I do try almost always to behave in a polite manner so my life has been 50% when it comes to grace, (pause) so far. 

Does anyone know off the top of their head how many times the word love is used in the Bible? The answer is: The word “love” appears 310 times in the King James Bible, 348 times in the New American Standard Bible,551 times in the New International Version and 538 times in the New Revised Standard Version. Love is something very strong with God. How many times is the word relationship mentioned in the Bible? I don’t have quite the same breakdown as love but most sources say the word relationship appears 69 times. How many times do love and relationship appear together in the Bible? I wasn’t able to find an answer on this. I can tell you however that love is the driving force behind all healthy relationships. Some say you can have a healthy relationship based on trust or respect but I’m here to tell you today that love is the main part to ANY healthy relationship. Love says that “a relationship is worth having.” And unconditional love allows us to acknowledge the true worth of another person.

In English the word love has many meanings. Love translates four very important words in the Greek language, which describes different types of love relationships. First is Eros which represents romantic or sensual love. While this may sound easy to understand, it is very easy to confuse this type of love as many, including me, had relationships where one thing led to another and we thought love was involved but really it was nowhere in the room. I was engaged three times in my life. The first two over time proved that I was too young and trying too hard just to be married, respectively. Shortly after the second engagement ended I dated a woman who after 5 weeks I proposed to and then married. I had that feeling, different than other times that this was the woman I would spend my life with. And the romantic love was there, which created 4 children.

Next is Philos. This is friendship or brotherly love. Over my life I have made friendships with a lot of people that I love dearly. I have a brother that I love, but not often spoken about because we just ‘know.’ I have friends that I love just like a brother.

Third is Storge (store-gay). This talks about the love a parent has with their child (or children). I’ve always had the love of my parent’s and in turn I have always loved my children unconditionally, no matter what they have put me through in life.

Finally there is Agape. This is the most important of the four meanings of love. It is what the New Testament in the Bible uses to describe God’s love for us and the kind of love He wants us to freely give to others.

How many of you remember these lyrics: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life. The lyrics can be applied to relationships as well. The good side are those that last and get stronger over time. The bad side are the broken relationships. In my life I have had several occasions when I broke my relationship with God. Earlier I mentioned finding the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

  • Personal Testimony (Loss of son, end of marriage)

This was not the first time in my life I felt broken. But this was when I felt I was the furthest in my life from God. Think about your lives, have you ever or do you currently have a broken relationship with God? 

Broken relationships are our worst crisis. The reason is explained in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 1:26-27 God says:  “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. This shows that God created us not only to love but to be loved by Him and by others. Later in Genesis 3:1-13 we get the bad side with the story of the first rebellion against God in the story of Adam and Eve. Disobeying God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden opened humanity’s eyes to sin which has had an effect on our relationship with God to this day.

Part of our brokenness is a fear that we are not worthy of being loved unconditionally by God and others. The grips of sin make most of us feel we have to earn or deserve the reality of being loved. Others say that people are worthy of being loved only if they are lovable or good enough. Some churches even send a message to people that God will only love us if we love Him. I’m here to tell you today that is absolutely NOT true! Romans 5:8-10 tells us “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

There is another definition of Grace that I would like to share with you. It is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Here’s a little secret I want to share with you, God loves each and every one of us UNCONDITIONALLY!! Doesn’t matter who we are, what we have done in our lives, if we have left Him at any time God loves us!! Here something even better, God will NEVER stop loving us!! 

Grace is not something limited to the New Testament of the Bible. Grace in the Old Testament was called chen, from the word chanun which had the meaning to bend, to stoop and to show favor. Years ago a scholar wrote Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection while love that stoops is grace. Grace is often thought of as unmerited favor, just like receiving a gift that you don’t deserve. Simply put, Grace is what everybody needs, but nobody deserves. Let me say that again, Grace is what everybody needs, but nobody deserves. That is God’s Gift!

Grace when it comes to God given to us as this gift can be summarized by saying ‘There is nothing you can do.’ Nothing, Luther said that “nothing is not a little something.” You, God is the one who offers a relationship to us. Can, We are not able to jump-start the relationship we have with God. Do, Without God and His help we fail spiritually. In Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by Grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the Gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” To put grace into perspective, let’s compare it with two other words in the Bible. There is Justice, which is getting what we deserve; Mercy, Not getting what we deserve; and Grace, getting what we don’t deserve. God’s Gift of Grace means there is nothing we can do that will have God love us more than He does today and nothing we can do that will have Him love us any less. Even when we have been at our worst, God has still loved us. This is something I’ve been told more than once in my life but it took a LOT of years to sink into this thick skull.

As I said earlier, ruined relationships with God started when Adam & Eve exposed sin for the first time to humanity. But through the years, time after time after time, He has reached down to call people to Him through Amazing Grace. Let me share some examples with you. In Genesis chapters 6-9 we learn of Noah who received undeserved deliverance from God. In Genesis 12:1-3 Abraham was chosen by God to be “Blessed to be a blessing” to the entire world. In the first half of the book of Exodus, chapters 1-20 Moses led God’s people from Egypt, even though he had no power of his own and then became the voice of God for these people. All of this was done by Grace. God reached out to an unworthy person like me, someone who spent so many years of my life running away from a relationship with Him by trying to self-destruct at times. Someone who thought he had learned how to love, only to turn away again after losing a son and a marriage. Have any of you ever felt that you don’t deserve Grace given by God? I am living proof to let you know that God provides Grace to each and every one of us in the ultimate form through Jesus Christ! John 1:17 says, For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. AND, that Grace will not leave you when you walk outside of this facility one day. The Gift of Grace will be there for you to fall back on, especially during the tough times you will have once you leave here!

When my world crumbled in 1995, my kids spent some time under DCFS care. My mom and step-dad took the necessary steps to become foster parents for them. I moved about 2 miles from them and saw my kids on weekends only for over a year. Even though my relationship was broken with God I took them to this nice church for Sunday school because I felt they needed to be there. But I wasn’t ready yet to work on me. Eventually I was granted temporary custody of my children and in 2000 I was finally given permanent custody to raise my kids.

You may not be aware of this, God cared for each of us before we came to know Him. Think about how a mother cares for a newborn before the baby really knows her. There are examples of this as well. Psalm 139:13-16 tells of how God loved us before we came into the world. In Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 we learn that God called us before we were born. In Ezekiel 34:11-16 God seeks after us while in the 23rd Psalm He watches over us.  Jesus, as God’s ultimate gift of grace is the same way. John 3:16 tells that Jesus loved us before we even knew it. In Mark 1:16-17 we learn that Jesus called us before we knew Him. In John 10:14-16 Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks us while in John 14:1-3 He watches over us. This shows us that the desire to be in a relationship of unconditional love is all God and He is the one initiating it. Doesn’t matter what we’ve done in our lives in the past, good or bad, whether we deserve it or not, God wants to have an unconditional relationship with us by His gift of Grace! Amen