For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Slow Death of Religious Freedom

No, I'm not talking about global atrocities like those being committed at the hands of folks like ISIS in Iraq.  I'm not talking about any number of European legislatures that continue to shut the mouths of Christians in a variety of ways.  I'm not even talking about the anti-Christian administration that currently runs our nation (or is running it to the ground, some might say). 

I'm talking about right here in the heartland.  Dead in the middle of Missouri.  In the little town of Fayette.  My college roommate hails from this fine metropolis, so I naturally took notice when news came out last December about a lawsuit over religious issues in the schools there.  

It seems that two students, one of which no longer even attends Fayette schools, were cited in a lawsuit against the school district because their constitutional rights were infringed.  How?  Because the school intercom announced the activity of a Christian students club.  No, the students weren't forced to attend.  No, they didn't have to be anywhere near it when it took place.  But they had to hear the announcement.  And that infringed their Constitutional Rights.  Or so they said. 

Furthermore, a teacher, yes an actual teacher, sat in on those meetings with the students.  Imagine, a teacher sitting in on a student meeting.  But that's not all.  The teacher actually, get this, actually prayed with those students.  In a completely voluntary meeting, before classes ever began.  Oh, and worse yet, the teacher actually brought food to those students on occasion. The inhumanity!  And again, these two students felt their Constitutional rights being violated.  Hence, the lawsuit. 

Now, any rational person would see this as a frivolous law suit.  Any rational person would see that two nit-picky teenagers have absolutely no leg to stand on.  Close your ears.  Don't listen to the intercom announcement.  Stay away from that classroom.  Let others express their Constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.  But apparently the U. S. District Court lacks any rational people, since they let this case proceed.  And it turns out the school district seems to lack rational people as well.  

According to reports: "The Fayette R-III School District has agreed in federal court to change policies regarding the religious expression of teachers and school district staff."  What changes?  "...the school district has agreed not to 'promote prayer or religious activity' and will modify its Student Teacher Handbook to prohibit teachers from participating in prayer or religious activities at student meetings. The court settlement also prohibits school district employees from placing religious books, materials, or items in a place where students would be likely to see them."

And so, to placate two whiny students, the majority in the school will have to give up their own rights to free speech and religious freedom.  Teachers can't express their faith in any way, shape, or form.  I'm assuming, based on past cases, that the phrase "religious books, materials, or items" will include not only Bibles and such that a teacher might read during breaks or off hours, but also any jewelry that is "religious."  Obviously cross necklaces will be out, earrings as well.  I couldn't even wear my wedding ring if I were there, since my ring has a cross on each side. Shoot, these days a wedding ring itself is probably considered a "religious item" considering the way we see marriage. 

This isn't the East Coast or West Coast, folks.  This isn't happening in the liberal centers of the nation.  This is happening right here in the heartland, in tiny little rural schools on the edge of the Bible belt.  And we sit by and watch as our religious freedom continues to die a slow, agonizing death.  And we wonder what's wrong with this country?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Riot vs. Reason - Just my two cents

Everyone and his brother has chimed in on the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.  For the most part, I don't know that I have anything to say that hasn't been said.  But, that's never stopped me before.  I do have family in the neighboring communities, and so I have been keeping tabs pretty closely.

The truth is, we obviously don't know everything that happened that day.  The officer involved says one thing.  Self-professed witnesses say something else.  Surveliance tapes come out showing a new angle.  Now a new video shows a background conversation that seems to support the officers account.  Autopsy results are released that are interpreted differently by both sides.  The final verdict is far from in. 

But that's where the problem comes in.  We don't know all the facts of the case in question.  What we do know is that people have taken to the streets in violent ways, looting stores, throwing fire bombs at police, hurting other innocent people in the process.  The question is: how does this help?  

Even if the officer is completely off his rocker, decided to shoot the young man on a whim, the worse case scenario if you're the police; but how does rioting help?  How does hurting other innocents help?  The investigation has only started, so you can't say there is no "justice" yet.  We haven't even had time to check all the facts yet.  How does blowing up your neighbors business help find that "justice"?

That's the point, isn't it?  It doesn't help.  But for many, it doesn't matter.  This is just an excuse to blow off steam, to engage in stupid, sinful, hurtful behavior and try to feel justified by it.  There is no reason behind the riots; protests, maybe; riots; absolutely not. 

And what's worse is the church or churches in the area who invite someone like Al Sharpton to come and speak, and call it a "unity rally" when all it does is stir the pot of disunity even more.  Shame on them.  Do you really think spouting rhetoric that inflames passions is really going to help anything?  And if you are really concerned about "injustice" and innocent lives being taken, why are you not rallying/rioting on the streets of cities like Chicago and Detroit where the lives of young men and women are being snuffed out daily by thugs and drug dealers and gang bangers and so on.  Where are the protests to support those families?  Where is the outcry of injustice in those cases?

My heart goes out to the family of this young man.  I can't imagine their pain.  I can imagine some of the rest of it.  Living on a Sioux Reservation for several years I found out first hand what racism and racial profiling is all about.  Folks on the rez didn't like us because we were white and blamed me for what some other group of white folks did to their anscestors a hundred years ago.  Meanwhile, white folks in town, off the rez, didn't like me because I lived out there "with those Indians."  I had police eye my car suspiciously because it had tribal plates.  I also had threats against me and my family simply because we were white.  We got it from both sides. 

So I do have some minor understanding of the kind of thing going on.  But I also know that rioting helps no one.  Burning down and stealing is not "justice."  It's only sinful men behaving sinfully and trying to rationalize it.  I'm in no way trying to defend the officer, or defend the young man who was shot.  I don't have enough facts to do either just yet. Neither does anyone else.

I just wish that reasonable people, maybe the true Church even, could stand up and urge peace instead of pointless violence.  I wish all the outside influences that have stirred the pot even further would go home and leave the poor folks of Ferguson alone.  And I pray that somehow in the midst of this, the redeeming grace of Christ will get ahold of some folks and show them that the biggest injustice of all was when one innocent man died so that we might live.  Nothing was ever more unjust.  But trust me, I'm not going to protest or riot at all.  Because as a result of that injustice, my own sinful heart has found peace in Christ; the only true and lasting peace that can ever be found.  I pray the folks in Ferguson will find that peace as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Please Pray for Your Pastor

There are all kinds of needs in the world.  Persecution and war in the Middle East.  Riots just up the interstate here in Missouri.  People you know who are struggling with family issues, health issues, job issues.  Our prayer lists certainly have no lack for entries. 

But might I suggest that your pastor needs to be near the top.  I know that comes across very selfish, being a pastor and all.  Yet, as I see all the struggles in this world, I know that the answer for them is Christ.  And the church is tasked with telling that truth to the world.  And the pastor is tasked with leading the church.  What a responsibility!

Last December I posted some comments about pastors being "targets" for the enemy based on a book our class was reading at the time. (You can read here if you're interested).  And that is certainly true.  This is a spiritual battle, and those in leading roles on the front lines will be targeted.  But target of direct attack or not, you pastor needs your prayer.  If you don't realize that, then I don't think I can say anything that will convince you.  That's not even my point here.  For now, I just want to offer some suggestions for those who do see the need. 

It's no secret around here about my love for old hymnals.  And there are a couple of hymns I've come across that are actually prayers for pastors.  I love that.  The church at one times saw this as such a need that men wrote songs, and churches put them in their hymnals to pray for their pastors.  I just want to share a couple of these prayers/hymns to maybe prompt your own prayers as you think of your pastor.  Trust me, he'll appreciate it!

With heavenly power, O Lord, defend
Him whom we now to Thee commend
His person bless, his soul secure,
And make him to the end endure.

Gird him with all-sufficient grace;
Direct his feet in paths of peace;
Thy truth and faithfullness fulfil,
And help him to obey Thy will.

Before him Thy protection send;
Oh love him, save him to the end;
Nor let him as Thy pilgrim rove,
Without the convoy of Thy love. 

Enlarge, inflame, and fill his heart;
In him Thy mighty power exert;
That thousands yet unborn may praise
The wonders of redeeming grace.

~Rowland Hill's Collection, 1774

Father of mercies, bow Thine ear,
Attentive to our earnest prayer;
We plead for those who plead for Theee;
Successful pleaders may they be!

Clothe Thou with energy divine
Their words, and let those words be Thine;
To them Thy sacred truth reveal,
Suppress their fear, inflame their zeal.

Teach them aright to sow the seed;
Teach them Thy chosen flock to feed;
Teach them immortal souls to gain,
Nor let them labour, Lord, in vain.

Let thronging multitudes around
Hear from their lips the joyful sound,
In humble strains Thy grace adore,
And feel Thy new-creating power.

Let sinners break their massy chains,
Distressed souls forget their pains;
Let light through distant realms be spread,
Till Zion rears her drooping head. 

~Benjamin Beddome, 1818

Monday, August 11, 2014

Voice Recognition and The Gospel

I consider myself to be fairly articulate.  I speak for a living (technically "preach").  I have a degree in communication. I took voice and articulation classes. I spent several years working in Christian radio.  I know that, like everyone, I let my grammar and diction slip now and then.  But overall, I'd say I speak pretty clearly most of the time.  

Especially when I'm trying.  When I'm trying to be sure I'm understood.  Like when speaking into my phone's voice recognition software to send a text message, or post online.  I try to be clear.  But sometimes...

It's my fault for naming my youngest Kenaniah.  I don't expect the software company to have made plans for a name like that, even though it's quite Biblical.  But I tried three different times to send a text to my wife one day about taking our son to his baseball game.

I thought the message was simple: Are you going to take Kenaniah to his game?  The first attempt came out typed like this: Are you going to take in and I add to his game?  So I tried again: Are you going to take can I add to his game?  Finally, what I thought was my most clear attempt: Are you going to take in and it was getting?  It seemed to get worse as I went. 
 
Again.  It's my fault with the name and all.  Folks couldn't hope to have programmed the software to recognize that.  But other times, I'm simply mystified.  The software seems to have an aversion to all things theological.  I have a habit of "tweeting" lines from old hymns.  Today I tried some lines from an Anne Steele hymn which said this: The blessings of Thy grace impart, And make me live to Thee.  Now I know "thees" and "thous" might be a problem, but this is what my phone typed when I spoke those words: The blessings of bike race in part, And make me live TV.   

Really? Bike race in part really makes more sense than Thy grace impart?  And it really thinks I want to be a live TV?  Of course the software doesn't think at all.  It just "hears" and spits out what it thinks it heard.  But again, this is based on programming algorithms designed to "make sense" of what it hears.  And those are put in by programmers based on what they expect to be said.  And it seems that bike races are more likely to be texted about than God's grace.

I know it shouldn't surprise me.  The world as a whole doesn't grasp the grace of God, doesn't think it terms of His blessings and a desire to live for Him.  And it is just cheap computer/phone software. But the whole thing got me to thinking. What if this is how we really sound to the world? What if when we speak of God's grace imparting blessings, it makes about as much sense to people as a "bike race in part"?

Do they have the context, the background software, to make sense of what we're saying?  Sometimes I think we believe we are still in this idyllic "Christian" nation that has all the background information and Biblical foundations to work with.  And increasingly, folks don't.  The worldview of our current culture and the worldview of the Bible are perhaps further apart than they've ever been in this country.  Not that these haven't been at odds all along; not that other places on the globe are unaware of a biblical worldview; but in this nation it seems that what at one time was at least an awareness of a biblical worldview has long since disappeared from the public realm. 

What difference does it make?  Well, it makes communication of the gospel a bit more difficult for starters.  Maybe not more difficult, since speaking the truth of God to a sinful world has always been tough.  But it's going to take more concerted effort on our part.  We're speaking a foreign language to many.  Speak about reality TV shows, speak about Oprah, speak about evolution and environmentalism, and folks will get it.  But speak about sin and righteousness and atonement and God's sovereignty and we might as well be talking about being a live TV.

We need to set the background, lay the foundation. Which, by the way, is why our view of Genesis is so important.  If that foundational book is not to be trusted, the rest will fall as well.  But that's another post altogether.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, laying a foundation.  "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" won't cut it anymore (if it ever did!).  We need to begin with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of men, the rightness of His justice and wrath because of the gulf between those things, and then the beautiful light of the cross which bridges the gap.  Even then, we're going to have to watch our words, define ourselves, make sure we're operating on the same wavelength.  As I said, it takes effort. 

Anyway, since our primary goal as the Church is to glorify God and proclaim His good news, I just thought this was something to think about.  Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to have to go and actually figure out how to use the little digital key pad on my phone to get these messages sent. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Voted!

I voted.  I wonder if we take those words for granted sometimes.  This was only a primary election, though there were several important state and county measures on the ballot today.  But regardless of whether it's a primary or general election, or just some other county issue, I wonder if we appreciate the great blessing it is to be able to say "I voted."

Do we appreciate the great sacrifice so many in our nation's history have made to give us this freedom? Do we realize how many millions around the world still don't have that freedom?  Do we know how blessed we are to be given the opportunity to elect our own leaders, help shape our own laws, direct our own nation?  And do we know what a great responsibility it is?

President James Garfield once said, "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress.  If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.  If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature... If the next centennial does not find us a great nation...it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."  

Wow. And that was in 1881!  How much more true is that today?  And it's not just the "national legislature" that this applies to.  It's every election, every amendment, every tax increase, every judge and county official.  We can sit and complain about this or that, but if we aren't out at the polls, exercising this blessed freedom we have, then not only do we not have room to complain, but there may even come a day when that blessed freedom is lost.  

I thank God I was born in this great nation.  The freedoms we enjoy are like nowhere else in the world in so many ways.  And I'm very proud to say that today I took full advantage of those freedoms.  I voted. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are You Content With His Control?

I’ve written here before about the wonderful collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision.  It’s a wonderful tool for private devotions, and even corporate prayer.  I often conclude Sunday evening messages with words from this collection that relate to the evening’s message.

There is one group of prayers designed for morning and evening of each day.  The morning prayer for today begins like this:

http://banneroftruth.org/us/store/devotionalsdaily-readings/the-valley-of-vision/
CREATOR, UPHOLDER AND PROPRIETOR OF ALL THINGS,

We cannot escape from thy presence and control,
     nor do we desire to do so.
Our privilege is to be under the agency
    of thy omnipotence, righteousness, wisdom, patience, mercy and grace;
For thou art Love with more than parental affection.

Now, most of us would heartily agree with the idea that we “cannot escape from thy presence and control.”  We know God is sovereign.  We know He sits on His throne and is busy working all things for His purposes and His glory. 

OK, so not everyone would agree.  There are those radical, man-centered, free-will-or-die types who want to relegate God to a doddering old man sitting on His throne, wringing His hands and hoping things work out right; begging for someone to please answer His call.  But anyway…

Scripture tells us that we cannot escape His presence.  The well known words of Psalm 139:  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalm 139:2-12, ESV)

We are also told that all thing are in His control.  Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.  The prophet Isaiah says:  For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Is. 14:27) and through that prophet God says:  Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?" (Is. 43:13)

So again, no right thinking person who has read the Word of God can disagree that we cannot escape His presence and control.  But it’s the rest of that phrase that got my attention: nor do we desire to do so. Our privilege is to be under the agency of thy omnipotence, righteousness, wisdom, patience, mercy and grace; For thou art Love with more than parental affection. (emphasis added)


I don’t want to be out of His presence and control.  I see it as a privilege to submit to His divine omnipotent hand, knowing He is wise and righteous and patient and merciful and gracious, more than any human parent could ever be. 

Wow.  Do I really believe that?  Sure I don’t want to be out of His presence.  I want to live under His mercy and grace and know that He’s there loving and protecting.  But do I honestly feel that I see it a privilege to be under His divine omnipotent control, knowing that His purposes are right and wise?

Now be careful.  Before we rush in and say “yes, of course.”  What if that wise and righteous plan is for you to suffer and grieve and struggle?  Hmm.  Most often, in fact, this is the case.  Think Abraham and Moses and David and Job and Paul.  Sure they had their bright shining moments.  But they all also suffered and struggled greatly.

Or think…Jesus.  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; (Is. 53:10)  God’s will, God’s pleasure, was to crush the perfect Son of God in order to bring sinful folks like you and me into right standing.  So, where do we get off thinking that God would gladly crush His own Son, but want nothing but fun and happiness for you and me?

So, are we still eager to thank God for keeping us in His control, working His perfect plan and purpose for His glory?  We should.  Because the rest of that is true as well.  It is all done in mercy and grace, and wisdom and righteousness, and with a love that is greater than any earthly parent could ever produce.

As a parent, I want to shape and guide and protect my children.  I want what’s best for them because I love them.  I have sometimes not let them do something (exerting parental control) because I knew it wouldn’t be best for them.  They didn’t like it, but it was done in love.

And God’s love is so infinitely higher and deeper and wider and greater…  So yes, it’s a privilege to be under His sovereign control.  Even when things don’t work the way I think they should.  It’s a privilege because I know He is working out an eternal plan that I only have a glimpse of.  It’s a plan that is for my highest good and His highest glory, and that makes it the best plan ever.  If I were in control, I’d only mess it up! 

So, Amen to that prayer.  I hope you can give it an Amen as well.  No matter where you are or what you are enduring, remember that God’s love is greater than you can imagine, and His plans and purposes are perfect and wise and good.  And He seeks to glorify His name in and through you, and there is no higher calling, no place we’d rather be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Redefining Culture - One Hero at a Time

(Note, this may be a meaningless rant for many (and maybe it is) but there is a serious point in here)

First they told us Green Lantern is gay.  Then they announced Thor is a woman.  And now we're told that Captain America is black.  Those are just some of the changes made to some iconic heroes from my childhood.  Not that I have a problem with women heroes, the comic universe is full of great ones: Jean Grey, Storm, Invisible Girl, Wasp, etc.  And it’s obviously not that I have anything against a black superhero; again there is a rich history of “ethnic” heroes: Luke Cage, Falcon, Black Panther, etc.  And as for the Gay Lantern, well, yes I do have a problem there, but….

Here’s the deal.  Why do we feel the need to redefine established characters to reflect what we think is the politically correct worldview?  I mean, come on, Thor is not only an established comic character, but a character from ancient mythology who is obviously a male character.  He’s not a woman.   Just like when the Doctor Who universe was recently in need of a new Doctor, there were cries from a few that the new Doctor should be a woman.  Why?  He’s a male character. 

The issue with Captain America, for me, is not the racial issue, but by making the Falcon become the new Captain America, you’ve completely changed the whole deal.  Cap is a solid, moral, even old fashioned kind of guy.  And the comic folks think that’s a bad thing, so they want to replace him with a modern guy who has none of Cap’s old moral moorings.  Nothing about race there, just about character.  Captain America will cease to be the hero he was, simply because we want to redefine everything to reflect our own modern standards.

And the whole Gay Lantern thing?  That’s so much an obvious ploy to make homosexuality seem mainstream to our younger generations that it’s hardly worth mentioning.  Except for this reason:  we’re not limiting it to fictional superheroes.

I know that many will have stopped reading by this point because I’m ranting about fictional comic characters that they don’t even care about.  But the point is that we are doing the same sort of thing with real, historical figures as well.  We want to go back, and with our “modern” glasses on, reinterpret the past so that our own immoral values are vindicated.

The most recent example might be the suggestions coming out (pardon the pun) that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay.  For those of you who might not know, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who resisted the Nazi regime and was imprisoned and died for that cause.  I’m not a  historical scholar, and I haven’t read the book which puts this theory forward so firmly, but I like the way this article summarizes things.  Even if Bonhoeffer did have a close relationship, even a deep love for another man, why does that have to automatically mean it was sexual? Only our over sexualized minds would go there.

For years I’ve heard from liberal, gay-agenda folks that King David had a romantic relationship with Jonathan.  Looking at these biblical characters, and seeing a deep love for one another, our modern immoral mindset can’t see how two men can care deeply for one another without it being sexual.  So we try to read our warped understandings back on to them.  As the article points out, this says more about our modern preoccupations than anything else.

The same retroactive arguments have famously been applied to President Abraham Lincoln among others.  I even heard one blasphemous suggestion that Jesus and His disciple John had a romantic relationship based on John being called the “disciple Jesus loved.”  Taking that and twisting it into something lewd reminds me of junior high boys giggling and laughing over some rude innuendo.

Now, please don’t hear me equating a character being a woman or being a non-white ethnic background as being immoral.  I know the liberals want to link homosexuality with the civil rights movement, and there are so many holes in that link that I don’t have time to begin.  That’s not the issue.

I simply wanted to use the desire to change these fictional characters in an attempt to be “politically correct” as an illustration of our warped sense of trying to rewrite history to fit our modern sensibilities.  We seem to abhor standards.  We hate things that disagree with the way we want the world to work.  And so we try to rewrite not only fictional history, but actual history, to make us feel better about ourselves.

There may be some well meaning value to that.  I mean, I’d love to go back and change a bit of history myself.  I’d love to undo the Crusades and the horrors done by sinful men in the name of Christ.  But I can’t.  That’s just the way it was.  I simply need to be sure I don’t repeat their mistakes.

So, I guess there are two warnings/pleas here.  One, just be aware that the culture will do whatever it can to reshape our thought patterns to match their own skewed view of reality.  Having a gay superhero is certainly aimed at teaching young folks that aberrant behavior is normal.  Making Bonhoeffer gay will make it look like this is much more normal.  Be wise and be aware of those efforts.

And two, please, can’t we just leave things alone?  If we’re so worried about letting people be who they are, then let Steve Rogers continue to be Captain America.  Let Thor continue to be the son of Odin.  Let them be who they are without trying to rewrite them to be something we think the modern world will more readily approve.  And for heaven’s sake let’s apply that to the real world, and let history be what it is, not what we want it to be.

Thus ends the rant that falls on deaf ears. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

VBS Hiatus

Feeling guilty about not posting anything here for awhile.  We're in the middle of VBS, including an adult class which I'm teaching.  14 hour days tend to hinder the blog inspiration.  Hopefully will get back with it soon (as if anyone cares!).  

In the meantime, enjoy some new(er) music from a band I just discovered called Carrolton. Not sure how long they've been around, but I've just found out about them. Though leaning toward the mellower end of things, I think I'm gonna like these guys. 



Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Short Note on Sermon Preparation

This is NOT how to do sermon preparation:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Stuff!!

That got you attention, didn't it?  Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love free stuff, especially books.  I enter contests to win free books.  I follow several "resource" pages on facebook in order to get free books for my Kindle.  In fact, 99.5 of the 700+ books on my Kindle were free!  I love free.

But here's the thing.  Free stuff isn't really free is it?  I mean, when a publisher makes a new book free to download as a promotional thing, or whatever, it doesn't cost me personally to download it.  But it isn't really free in the sense that it cost no one anything.  The writer has a lot of time and effort and maybe even money invested.  The publisher may have some tied up in it as well, but they offer the free download in hopes that you will buy some other stuff. The point is, it cost someone something to produce that "free" item. 

Likewise, when I win the free books (which I actually have once or twice), it's not that the books magically appear out of nowhere.  Again, the writer and publisher have time and money invested in producing that book, the person running the giveaway pays postage in order for me to receive them.  It cost someone something in order for me to get if for "free."

Now, we can apply that to politics and really start an argument.  The government is always offering this or that "free" program.  Free lunches and free tuition and free housing and free this or that.  But it's not free, is it?  You and I, the average tax payer, we pay for that "free" stuff.  That's a frustration for lots and lots of folks as they watch others take advantage of those things, often even illegally, that our government "hands out."  We know we worked hard to earn a paycheck, and the government took part of that hard earned money, and they pass it out (often willy nilly) to folks who may or may not truly need the "assistance."  The point is, nothing is free.  Someone paid for it. 

Similarly, our church has a benevolent ministry in which we help folks in the community who are in need.  Help with a light bill, or a gas bill, or some groceries.  Sure those folks get it for free.  But it came at the expense of the pocket books of some very generous folks in our church.  We're glad to do it.  But it can be frustrating when folks don't appreciate it, or act like we "owe" it to them.  Because it does cost someone something. 

I really didn't want to just make this about politics.  What I eventually want to get around to is the theological implications of this.  We talk often of free grace; the free gift of salvation.  And it is.  It doesn't cost us a thing.  Salvation is the gift of God; His grace is free to those whom He chooses to give it.  But we need to remember that this free gift did indeed cost someone something.

Salvation is not God looking the other way and just ignoring our sin.  Grace is not God saying "Aw shucks, I guess sin isn't that big of a deal after all, let's just forget it."  The truth is, our sin demands justice.  Our sin demands a price be paid.  Because God is pure and holy and true and righteous and just, He absolutely must punish sin.  It can't be ignored.  It can't be overlooked.  To do so would violate the very nature and character of God. However...

What a great word: however...  However, God in His amazing mercy, chose to send His perfect Son to live and die in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment our sin deserves.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  A real transaction took place on the cross of Calvary.  Your sin was heaped on the perfect Son of God, and the righteousness of the perfect Son of God was imputed to you.  Wow!  What a price God pays for us to receive His free grace.

Here's the thing.  All that annoyance we might feel about others taking advantage of free stuff, acting like we're owed something for nothing, not appreciating a free gift when given...magnify that to infinity and imagine what God must think when we act like our salvation is a freebie we can take or leave, or something we're owed, or something we don't truly appreciate.  God paid a price higher than we can even imagine in order to give us this free gift.  It most certainly cost Someone something very valuable indeed.

So please, if you haven't, consider God's free gift of salvation in Christ.  It truly is free.  You don't deserve it, and you certainly can't earn it, but God has paid the price in Jesus.  Receive His offer of free grace.  But please, never forget the price that was paid.  

Those who know this gift already, please, don't take it for granted, don't take it lightly.  Thank God daily for the amazing gift that it is.  Rejoice in His grace, revel in the free nature of it, jump up and down at the riches of His infinite Grace.  But please, please, never forget that this glorious gift cost Someone something precious.  And thank Him for that, too.