The Merciful & Gracious God

by Erin Bird

Years ago, I read Praise Habit, a devotional book by David Crowder, the Christian music artist. If you aren’t familiar with Crowder, he is a bit quirky. You can see it in his appearance (his beard is epic!). You can hear it on many of his albums. But you especially see his quirkiness in his writing.

While David’s “quirkiness” created memorable devotionals from the Psalms, the place I most vividly recall his quirkiness in the book was the “author’s bio” at the end. (Unfortunately, I lent the book to someone and don’t recall who I gave it to, so I can’t go grab it off my shelf and type the bio accurately.) But what I recall is that just before the back cover was a photo of Mr. Crowder peering out a window. Under the photo, it said something like this…

“David Crowder is the pastor of music and arts at University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where he lives with his beautiful wife, Toni. He is also the lead singer and frontman for the band that bears his name. This is his first book. David is peering into the distance because the photographer told him to. Perhaps it makes him look smarter. Also, he is writing this in third person.”

If you were to write an “author’s bio” for yourself, you might not write it quite as humorously,(maybe you would) but I do suspect you’d do at least one thing similar. You’d write briefly.

Notice, Crowder didn’t write three chapters about himself. He wrote a brief paragraph. His bio is merely a snapshot of who he was when he wrote the book. And to keep his bio brief, he had to get right to the point.

Grace from the Get-Go

In Exodus 34:6-7, where God shares His “bio” with Moses, He doesn’t go on and on and on. He keeps it somewhat brief. This means God gets right to the point. However, He doesn’t start with His power, or His uniqueness, or even some deep theological concept. After stating His name, God starts His bio at the get-go with the words “merciful and gracious.”

Many people have the notion that the “God of the Old Testament” is a cranky old man who tells puny little humans to get off his lawn by killing them or demanding the impossible. But that is not the heart of God! He is full of mercy and grace. Not demanding, but patient. He is Loving. He is Present. He is all-knowing. He is… merciful and gracious.

While we can see and sense God’s mercy and graciousness in the air we breathe, or the people He’s brought into our lives, or even in the fact that we are given a new day every day, we see this characteristic most vividly through the cross of Christ. Jesus, God the Son, willingly went through the hell of crucifixion to give us the heaven of forgiveness. All of us were born in sin. Yet while our sin separates us from God, our sin does not repel Him. Rather He runs to us, taking on human flesh. Why? Because He is merciful and gracious. And out of His mercy & grace, He went to the cross to pay the penalty we couldn’t pay to give us the freedom we don’t deserve.

So if you’ve been writing God’s bio in your head as “can’t love someone like me,” or “doesn’t seem to care,” or even “full of hate,” please know that God DOES love you, for He is full of mercy and grace. After all, it’s the first thing He put in His brief bio. And I hope this truth redefines your bio.

Justified through the Gospel

Justified through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

I’m excited to continue our series on Gospel Facets because this week I get to talk about Justification.

Justification is a theological word that often gets ignored because many of us aren’t quite sure exactly what it means. We’ve heard the word, but the definition is a bit fuzzy in our brains. So let me help out. Here are two ways you can remember what Justification means:

  1. The first way you can remember “justified” is the “Maid Rite sandwich” definition. Simply put, to be “justified” is to be “made right” (Maid Rite) with God.
  2. The other way you can remember “justified” is to put it in a sentence; “Just-if-I’d (justified) never sinned.”

While I think it’s important you remember what this “seminary” word means, it’s more important to me that you to see the awesomeness of this concept in the Scripture.

Justification in the Bible
The Apostle Paul talks about justification more in the book of Romans than in any of his other letters. Right after one of the most famous verses from Romans (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (3:23)), Paul says this:

” and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”(3:24)

This is amazing news! When a person (who is a sinner falling short of God’s glory) puts their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are “justified by His grace as a gift.”In other words, the gospel makes you right with God, “just if I’d” never sinned. Wow!

A Justified Example
But maybe that doesn’t wow you. Maybe that is still “too theological” for you, or you grew up in church and have heard all this for dozens of years and so it’s common place to your ears. Let me give you an  illustration then:

Imagine you committed a horrible crime. In an unexpected fit of enraged passion, you struck someone, and that blow killed the person. While you are filled with regret, you still committed the crime, and thus the judge is required by law to sentence you to time in prison.

Now imagine, the judge’s son walks in to the courtroom, put his arm around you, and says, “Dad, I heard about this person’s story, and I know he/she didn’t mean it. And because I know they feel awful for what they did, I want to take their place, and have his/her record expunged.”

While this example is pretty ludicrous in our modern age,  this is exactly what happened in the spiritual realm. Your sin made you guilty against a perfect, Holy God. Your sin deserved the punishment of death. But Jesus walked into the courtroom, put His arm around you, looked up at his Dad the judge, and said, “I’ll take the punishment so he/she can be made right with you. And as I take his/her sentence, please give him/her my perfect record.”

THAT is what justification is all about! This is why Paul also said in Romans:

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”(Romans 8:33)

If you are a follower of Jesus, God the Perfect Judge has declared you justified through the gospel. And because God has declared it, no one can say otherwise! You are free from your sin. It is not held against you. God looks at you as “just if I’d never sinned.”

So this Sunday, if you are able to join us in worship, as you partake of the communion elements, tell God, “Thank you for your justification. Thank you for making me right, by taking my sin to the cross, and giving me the flawless record of Jesus.”

Value #1: Grace

by Erin Bird

As I was considering what to write this week, I realized its been a while since I’ve talked about Riverwood’s three values. So I’d like to take the next couple of weeks here on the blog to talk with you about Grace, Truth, & Trust. Which means this week we start with value numero uno – Grace.

What is Grace?

A few years ago, I heard a story about a cop who pulled over a young man for having an expired license plate. Even though the driver knew the license plate was expired, he simply didn’t have the money to pay for the renewal. Even though he was working hard, his young family was barely making ends meet. So when it came to either paying for the license renewal or feeding his kids, he opted for food. You can’t help but feel for this guy, but the fact remained that he had broken the law and deserved to get a ticket.

Now, if I had been the cop, I would have been tempted to let the guy go. This would have been mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. This guy deserved a ticket, but I might have not given it to him because of his financial situation.

But the cop in the story didn’t show mercy. He didn’t let the young man off with a warning. Instead, he handed him a ticket. But wrapped up inside the ticket was a $100 bill to pay the fine.

That’s grace.

You see, while mercy is not getting what you DO deserve, grace is getting what you DO NOT deserve.

The Greek word for “grace” is the word charis (pronounced “Karis” – now you know where my oldest daughter got her name!). But charis also means “gift.” And that’s what the anonymous cop in the story did. He upheld the law, but at the same time, he dispensed grace to the driver by giving the means to not only pay the fine and renew his license, but renew his wife’s registration as well.

The Power of Grace

In the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), we read about Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus. Jesus had been arrested in the middle of the night and dragged off for a “trial.” Peter followed a safe distance behind so he could figure out what was going to happen to Jesus. But a couple of people recognized Peter and asked him, “Aren’t you one of His disciples?” Afraid he too would be arrested and possibly killed for his association with Jesus, Peter emphatically said no. He denied being a Jesus-follower.

So when Jesus is resurrected from the dead, you can understand why Peter would go back to his previous career in fishing. He had failed as a disciple. He had told Jesus he wouldn’t deny being a Jesus-follower, and yet he did. So he went back to the one thing he was good at.

But Jesus wasn’t done with Peter.

In John 21, we see Jesus confront Peter. Peter deserved at least a lecture for his denial, maybe even more. Yet Jesus didn’t give him any of that. He forgave him! He showed Peter mercy.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He then gave Peter responsibility to move Jesus’ mission forward. Jesus gave him something he didn’t deserve. He gave him responsibility and leadership. He gave him grace.

And we see Peter respond to this grace when he preaches in Acts 2. A throng of people listen to Peter tell about Jesus, and 3000 people made a decision to follow Jesus.

You see, Peter didn’t take the grace that Jesus gave him and take advantage of it. The grace of Jesus launched Peter into something beautiful. Peter didn’t leave the conversation in John 21 thinking he had just gotten away with something. He was humbled by the grace Jesus gave him, and Peter allowed that grace to launch him into something powerful.

That’s why at Riverwood we talk about “leading with grace.” We want to give to people the same kind of grace that Jesus has given us. We believe that when someone truly experiences grace, it will launch them into something beautiful, and rather than just be takers and consumers in life, they too will become grace-dispensers.

And so, if you have seen the depravity of your own sin and realized God has not only shown you mercy by forgiving you of your sins, but also gives you grace by inviting you to follow Him, then give others grace, trusting that God can use that grace to launch them into something beautiful.

Let’s lead with grace. Let’s be grace-dispensers!

God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense

Imagine a lottery that has a jackpot of One Nonillion Dollars. (What’s a nonillion? Glad you asked! A Nonillion is a 1 followed  30 zeros. This is so big, you could pay off the U.S. National Debt 10 times and STILL have billions of dollars left over!)

But to win this lottery, you have to buy a lottery ticket with a price tag of One Trillion dollars. Hearing that, you laugh. You couldn’t even afford a ticket if it was a “mere” million dollars. Not even Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, could afford a ticket at that price.

But imagine that Mr. Gates calls up a few of his friends (who happen to make up the Top 10 of the world’s richest people), and they all decide to liquidate their assets, cash everything in, to enter this lottery. They are able to purchase a ticket, and because they are the only ones able to afford the ticket price, they are guaranteed the win.

But then they do the unthinkable. They take their nonillion dollar winnings, and give it all to you!

That is Grace.

The Ultimate Lottery

We are in a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way. This week, we come to “…leads with Grace.” And like the above scenario, this is exactly what God has done for us through Christ.

Jesus paid the ultimate price. He gave everything. He cashed in his life. But doing so allowed Him to purchase you from sin. But not only are you given spiritual freedom and forgiveness, you are also given God’s riches.

Ephesians 1:3 says it this way:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”

In other words, if you follow Jesus, you are spiritually rich! You have far more than a nonillion worth of spiritual dollars in your spiritual bank account. It can’t be counted. You have EVERY spiritual blessing.

This is grace. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Grace is being made spiritually alive and spiritually rich when you couldn’t do anything yourself to make yourself alive or wealthy.

Or, to make grace an acronym, G.R.A.C.E. is God’s Riches (given to you) At Christ’s Expense.

Grace in Everyday Life

Here’s how this mind blowing truth should affect the rest of your todays. Because God has given you such extravagant grace, you should lead with grace toward others. It means giving grace to your spouse when he or she doesn’t follow through on his or her promise. It means giving your kids grace when they act like kids. It means giving your co-workers grace when they stand around gossiping.

But it also means giving grace to…

[list type=unordered extra=]
[list_item]the person clothed in rags,[/list_item]
[list_item]or the guy who thinks he deserves something because he’s wearing a suit,[/list_item]
[list_item]or the lady who cut you off in traffic,[/list_item]
[list_item]or the guy with a different skin pigment than you,[/list_item]
[list_item]or the mom who yelled at her kid in Walmart,[/list_item]
[list_item]or the “friend” who posted inflammatory comments on Facebook.[/list_item]

This kind of grace doesn’t mean we just let everything pass and affirm every decision others make (God gives me grace, and yet there is much I do that doesn’t honor and please Him). But in our Twitter world, we are often so quick to judge.

If there is human DNA inside of a person, they are made in the image of God. And if God can give us grace despite our own sin and imperfections, then we can give grace to other image bearers as well.

So today, lead with grace. Because you’ve won the spiritual lottery and have plenty of grace to share!

Like Riverwood on Facebook