For the last months, we had been going through a very difficult time in our previous community of faith. Without going into too many details, God provided us with a front row seat to moralistic, unbiblical preaching as well as inviting on stage to experience first-hand a culture of judgment and lack of forgiveness.

I had written and erased dozens of blog posts pertaining to that time and the learning that it wrought. Some were vindictive, others were self-excusing, and most lacked the grace I am on a journey to learn and apply.

I believe God has provided the right words for me to express this ball of emotions and frustrations in a positive way.... from someone else's pen.

Thank you Jared C. Wilson for encouraging me to look to a Christ-filled future, where grace and truth live. Thank you for wrapping up my thoughts into a positive action plan for future use. And thank you Lord for providing these words to me.

Here is the original article, and below is a copy.

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Cultivating a Gracious Climate in Your Church
Jared C. Wilson

As I’ve said before, a message of grace may attract people, but a culture of grace will keep them. What our churches need, not in exchange for a gospel message but as a witness to it, is a gospeled climate. But how do you get that? How do you develop in your church community a safe space to confess, be broken, be “not okay”? What are some ways to cultivate a climate of grace in your church?

1. Ordain totally qualified elders

We often do well to make sure our elders are solid in doctrine and confident in leadership, but too often we let the just-as-important qualifications slide. Or we skimp over them in assessment. Many churches fail their communities when they ordain the smartest guys in the building because those smart guys lack in qualities like gentleness, long-temperedness, or in shepherding their families well. Consider candidates who live in open, transparent ways, who distinguish themselves in hospitality and generosity, who have reputations for patience and meekness as much as intelligence and confidence. Examine their families. Do they lead their families graciously? Do their kids seem happy? Are their wives flourishing? There is a reason Paul puts the quality of husbanding and fathering at the top of his list.

This is one reason I am particularly fond of older men as elders, particularly men with adult or young adult children. A man may have prodigal children in spite of him, of course, not because of him, and so I want to take that into consideration, but if a man’s children are no longer walking with the Lord I want to know if it was because they grew up in an undisciplined, ungodly home or an overly disciplined, rigid, authoritarian, graceless home. I am not opposed to younger elders with younger children (I am one) or even single elders with none (Paul was one), but older men give you both the benefit of life experience and wisdom, and if they’ve been walking with Jesus for a while, they are often softer in heart than younger men. In short, what you want is not just elders who preach and teach well, but elders who love well, who shepherd well. You don’t want simply ruling elders, but gracious shepherds. Because whatever your elders are, your church will eventually be.

2. Go hard after doctrinal arrogance.

Most everyone who thinks they are right about a particular theological issue believes they came to it through growing in the Lord, not just reading information. Both the Calvinists and the Arminians in your church think that. Both the premillennialists and the postmillennialists think that. Most every one of us believes that we came to our particular view in the midst of our spiritual growth. (And we’re all right about that, sort of.) Thinking this way is only natural. But the danger in this thinking is equating our particular view with progressive sanctification. Doing so means believing that because I believe ______, I am more sanctified than you. The reason you don’t yet subscribe to my view on this matter is because you are more immature in your faith. Suddenly we are creating first and second class Christians in the community. And that’s gross.

Gently but firmly rebuke doctrinal arrogance and root it out wherever you find it. Factions develop over devotion to secondary matters quite easily if left unchecked. Be careful in preaching against sin that you don’t have “favorite” sins, pet sins to rail against. People guilty of such sins may be convicted and repent, but more often they do not hear the message of grace when their sin is repeatedly singled out but that your church is a safe place to have any sin but theirs. And there is an inverse danger in having favorite sins to preach against: it implicitly tells people who don’t struggle with that sin that they must be holy because they don’t struggle with it. By singling out certain sins for special treatment, you are helping everybody else embrace the arrogance of the Pharisee in the temple who was proud he wasn’t the tax collector.

Remind your people often that the demons have impeccable theology, that demons can be Calvinists and Arminians, millenniarians and amillenniarians.

3. Preach a whole gospel aimed at hearts, as well as minds

Preaching that takes the form more of lectures is great for creating information-glutted minds. Sometimes. But while every sermon should convey information — it should definitely teach — the purpose of a sermon is not primarily mind-informing but heart-transforming. Aim at the heart in two primary ways: 1) proclaim good news, not simply good advice, and 2) exult in your preaching. In other words, don’t just preach the text, as much as you are able, feel it. More often than not, churches don’t become passionate about what their pastors tell them to be passionate about but about what their pastors are evidently passionate about themselves. So if it’s clear from your preaching that what really fires you up is the imperatives of the Scriptures, and not the gospel indicatives, guess what? No matter how many times you tell your church to center on the gospel, they’re going to see that your zeal is reserved for the law.

And as you preach the gospel, preach to both prodigals and older brothers. Explain how the gospel is opposed to self-righteous religiosity. Entreat both “brothers” to embrace Christ, the legalist as well as the hedonist. Don’t give the impression that the gospel is just for those obvious sinners, the “lost” people, but for all people, including those in the pews every Sunday.

4. Establish limping leaders

From elders on down, don’t establish any leader who has no record of or reputation for humility. You will want to know if the leader has ever been broken, ever had his legs knocked out from under him. Don’t establish leaders who don’t walk with limps, because they often have no empathy for the broken, the hurting, the abused, or the penitent. Don’t empower any leader who has not confronted and wrestled with his own sin, who doesn’t demonstrate an ongoing humility about his sin and a grief over it. Leaders who do not personally know the scandal of grace set a climate in a church of gracelessness.

5. Promote hospitality, service, and generosity

What values, programs, initiatives do I most want to promote? The ones that are most conducive to closeness with each other and outwardness with the community. Church people don’t learn to be gracious with unchurched people if they are never in proximity with them. And often being in the same work environment doesn’t cut it. We want to facilitate and promote opportunities for growth that involve the opening of homes, the active service of people inside the church and out, and the giving away of money and stuff. Lots of things fit these bills, so you can get creative. But when church people spend a lot of time with each other in these sorts of settings — as opposed to simply classroom type settings or the worship service — they get to know each other in ways that build familiarity, empathy, intimacy, etc. And the same is true of spending time in these settings with unchurched folks, as well. A closed-off, insular, cloistered church is not conducive to a gracious climate. It runs out of air too quickly; people can’t breathe.

6. Take it personally

Most importantly, you I must be what you I want to see. So often as you are I am checking your my church’s pulse — which Bonhoeffer wisely says not to keep doing — we are I am thinking of all the people who need to get their act together, who need a big dose of humility. We may be right about them. But applying to others first is not the humble impulse of grace taken seriously. I need to keep a close watch on my life and doctrine. I need to outdo others in showing honor. I need to practice confession and repentance. I need to humble myself. As I am growing intellectually, I need to hold the fruit of the Spirit up to my heart and be fearless and honest about asking, “How am I doing in these areas?”

For each of us, a gracious climate begins with us.

 
 
Since the first pair of human legs walked in Eden, it's always been about one's self. From Eve's desire to be like God to my child's refusal to obey, 'Man has been dictated by a single focus : EGO. 

No matter the creeds, the cultures, the life experiences, and the relationships we had, we have all operated under the focused principle that we need stuff, that we want stuff, that we must work to get this stuff. 

The ultimate question we keep asking ourselves is : 'What's in it for me?'. In our base choices, everything we do is skewed towards filling our immediate or long-term hierarchical needs.

That is why the concept of Biblical Grace, God's giving without our personal merit, is in such opposition of everything sin has corrupted in our lives. It fills our deepest needs, and yet we can't work for it to acquire it.

A friend of mine has put together a list of the paradoxes of our time. It is a striking portrait of of how far we have come, but how little we have actually accomplished.

It is a devastating canvas where the prominent colours are ego, greed and covetousness. And the only colour that can ever renew this dreary canvas is Christ.

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The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgement  more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. 

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour  We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.
 
 
I like control. 

I like to know what's going to happen, when and how I can influence it, tweak it, organise it or prepare for it. I could psycho-analyse myself and say it's a form of insecurity, or a lack of faith, or too much pride. Whatever it is, my natural tendency is to want to overly plan and control.

I know God has permitted certain life events to violently rip that control out of my hands a few times. And I'd like to think that I am (very slowly) learning. It's so easy for me to spew out the infamous five words of exhortation to others : 'Let go and let God'... but Oh so hard to apply in my own life.

Lyrics from a song from the David Crowder Band remind me to :

'Risk the ocean, it's only grace'. 

Somehow that line got to me. It's as if God is calling me to set sail, leave the control issues behind and go on the ultimate adventure of faith on towards it's infinite horizon of Grace. The idea of getting lost in the vastness and deepness of His Grace strongly convicts me, who likes his feet well planted on 'sure ground'. 

I like taking calculated risks in life. Always have. And yet, when I look back on how His Grace saved me, carried me, healed me, sustained me, built me and renewed me every day, this should be my easiest 'risk': 

To lift the anchor, to set sail, to get lost in the sea without a shore called Grace.
 
 
I found these sermon notes From Charles Spurgeon, saw the wonderful parallel between Grace and rain, God's marvelous creation. 

May it fall all over you.
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Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? Job 38:25-27

God challengeth man to compare with his Maker even in the one matter of the rain. Can he create it? Can he send a shower upon the desert, to water the lone herbs which else would perish in the burning heat? No, he would not even think of doing such a thing. That generous act cometh of the Lord alone.

We shall work out a parallel between grace and rain.

I. GOD ALONE GIVETH RAIN, AND THE SAME IS TRUE OF GRACE.
  • We say of rain and of grace, God is the sole Author of it.
  • He devised and prepared the channel by which it comes to earth. He hath “divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters.” The Lord makes a way for grace to reach his people.
  • He directs each drop, and gives each blade of grass its own drop of dew, to every believer his portion of grace.
  • He moderates the force, so that it does not beat down or drown the tender herb. Grace comes in its own gentle way. Conviction, enlightenment, etc., are sent in due measure.
  • He holds it in his power. Absolutely at his own will does God bestow either rain for the earth, or grace for the soul.

II. RAIN FALLS IRRESPECTIVE OF MEN, AND SO DOES GRACE.
  • Grace waits not man’s observation. As the rain falls where no man is, so grace courts not publicity.
  • Nor his cooperation. It ”tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men” (Mic. 5:7).
  • Nor his prayers. Grass calls not for rain, yet it comes. ”I am found of them that sought me not” (Isa. 65:1).
  • Nor his merits. Rain falls on the waste ground.
  • “Ah, grace, into unlikeliest hearts, It is thy wont to come; The glory of thy light to find; In darkest spots a home.”

III. RAIN FALLS WHERE WE MIGHT LEAST HAVE EXPECTED IT.
  • It falls where there is no trace of former showers, even upon the desolate wilderness: so does grace enter hearts which had hitherto been unblessed, where great need was the only plea which rose to heaven (Isa. 35:7).
  • It falls where there seems nothing to repay the boon. Many hearts are naturally as barren as the desert (Isa. 35:6).
  • It falls where the need seems insatiable, “to satisfy the desolate.” Some cases seem to demand an ocean of grace, but the Lord meets the need; and his grace falls where the joy and glory are all directed to God by grateful hearts. Twice we are told that the rain falls “where no man is.” When conversion is wrought of the Lord, no man is seen. The Lord alone is exalted.

IV. THIS RAIN IS MOST VALUED BY LIFE.
  • The rain gives joy to seeds and plants in which there is life. Budding life knows of it; the tenderest herb rejoices in it. So is it with those who begin to repent, who feebly believe, and thus are just alive.
  • The rain causes development. Grace also perfects grace. Buds of hope grow into strong faith. Buds of feeling expand into love. Buds of desire rise to resolve. Buds of confession come to open avowal. Buds of usefulness swell into fruit.
  • The rain causes health and vigour of life. Is it not so with grace?
  • The rain creates the flower with its colour and perfume, and God is pleased. The full outgrowth of renewed nature cometh of grace, and the Lord is well pleased therewith.
  • Let us acknowledge the sovereignty of God as to grace.
  • Let us cry to him for grace.
  • Let us expect him to send it, though we may feel sadly barren, and quite out of the way of the usual means of grace.

~ Charles Spurgeon 
 
 
This site is filled with an analysis of biblical Grace, by expounding every single of the 430+ pertinent verses. And sometimes I feel that dissecting the animal too much can lead to ultimately forgetting the true heartfelt experience of Grace.

And then I read Heather Owen's 'Dear Soiled Dove'. 

Thank you Heather for penning an incredibly vivid image of God's available Grace for us. Thank you for reminding me that beyond the models and the knowledge, Grace is an experience to be lived. Thank you for letting me link to it on my blog. And thank you for making me cry.

Enjoy the beautiful, experiential description of living Grace
 
 
This is a biblical response in the form of an open letter to Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church and all those pastors who spew anti-gay statements from the pulpit.

I write this letter for 2 reasons. The first is to denounce the misrepresentation of the Bible and its core message of Christ in your speech and, second, to remind you of the Grace you seem to have forgotten...

I also write with 2 implicit assumptions. The first is that you hold the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. It is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and entirely free from error; it is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice and the true basis of Christian union. The second is that you strive everyday to be more like Christ. He is your mentor, your model, your life's goal and the example you seek to emulate every day. If any of these premises don't apply to you, then I apologise and you can stop reading here.

However, if you agree with the above, then what follows is for you, from the depths of my heart.

...

I am disgusted.

Scratch that.

I am beyond disgusted. I am in the presence of a biblical abomination.

There is a bigger abomination than the issue of gay marriage. There is something worse as a Christian to be exposed to than the homosexuality of those who do not believe. There is something that saddens God more than what sinners do in their sin.

In God's eyes, it is when those who profess and teach His Holy name spew hateful, condemning words to those He has decided to die for. It is when His Grace is misrepresented by a false self-given justice that has no biblical basis at all. 

The real abomination here are your hate-filled words. 

THE (PERCEPTION OF) HATE
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). The act of murder itself was certainly condemned, but hatred is a ‘heart’ sin, and any hateful thought or act is an act of murder in God’s eyes for which justice will be demanded, possibly not in this life but at the judgment. So heinous is the position of hate before God that a man who hates is said to be walking in darkness, as opposed to the light (1 John 2:9, 11). 

THE REAL ABOMINATION
Let me be clear: your words were abhorred by God. 

Proverbs 6:16-19 (NKJV)
16 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 
19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

When I compare this passage with the clip in the video, I see:
- a proud look
- hands that shed innocent blood
- a heart that devises wicked plans
- feet that are swift in running to evil
- And one who sows discord among brethren

Five out of seven...

MY CHRIST 
The Christ I study, I preach, I expose on this site, I love and I have a growing relationship with is not the same one that you have preached on that Sunday morning. My Christ has reached out to the marginals, ate with the hated tax collectors and prostitutes, sat down with the sinners, healed the sick and graced the broken, over and over again. All in the name of announcing God's kingdom and the Way to it. 

The only people Christ condemned, with the same strength you did in your sermon, were the Pharisees - a prideful religious group that pretended to speak on behalf of God while spewing hatred towards those God loved. Sound familiar ?

We do not seem to believe in the same Christ. 

That same attitude from the video is the crowd anxious to stone the woman in John 8, the Samaritan village shunning the woman in John 4 and the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18.

You have no right to represent Christ with those words. You are using God's name to validate a personal hatred you have towards a certain type of sinner. Christ has never used that language on anyone. And He is God!

LACK OF MEMORY
Do you not know that you are worthy of the same hell that homosexuals deserve ? Your secret sins, your lust of the eyes, your lust of the flesh and your pride of life give you the same one-way ticket you are wishing upon them. The only difference between you and 'them' is God's grace - i.e. nothing you ever did.

You, yourself, have put this verse on your website
Ephesians 2:8 - 9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. 

So why boast now ?

Have you lost your way? Have you forgotten the infinite grace God has given you? Remember that grace that saved you from the abomination you were drowning in? 

THE EFFECTS OF YOUR WORDS
And you are leading sheep down a dark path of hating the sinner above the sin. 

These are the collected comments from your parishioners:
"So he had every right to say what he said about putting them in a pen and feeding them," Providence Road Baptist Church member Geneva Sims tells NBC news affiliate WCNC. "The Bible says they are worthy of death. He only preaches the word...God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

Adds member Stacey Pritchard: "Sometimes you’ve got to be scared straight. He is trying to save those people from going to hell."

Those two comments are riddled with doctrinal errors. Geneva Sims is as worthy of death as the homosexuals you cry out against! And no one was EVER 'scared straight' in the Bible. NO ONE. That wasn't how Jesus operated. Furthermore, you cannot save anyone from hell. Only the Holy Spirit has that power. We are but weak vessels proclaiming His Word. 

Don't you see that they are following you in this dark path of condemnation?  

You are responsible for them. You are their shepherd. You will be accountable to God for what you are teaching them and the effects on their lives. The hatred you demonstrate as a shepherd and His representative is as disgusting (if not more) than the sin of homosexuality. In James 3, I read of the damages your words can do. And the passage starts with: My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1-11)

MY REQUEST
Come back to the Gospel, come back to the real truth and ... grace. (John 1:14,17) Read that Bible open on the podium that is staring back at you. Understand the love God has for you, and asks you to show to others. Be broken before your God and your congregation. Put out a video to ask for forgiveness to the millions on the Internet who would wrongly associate Christ with your hate. Realise your pride in this and accept the wonderful Grace that is waiting in God's arms for you. Start preaching the Christ God wants you to preach, not the one you presented here.

And please, please, please, I beg of you in the name of the One who saved you from your sins in 1959:

Show Grace.

May He bless you in His Grace and Truth,
- GraceGuy

PS. This letter was sent to Pastor Worley.
 
 
Last year, I wrote about the invisible Grace of that happened on this miraculous time. I was (and still am) amazed at the apparent paradoxes that happened on that day.

Christmas is so many things to so many people.  But above all, Christmas is Love coming down and giving Grace to those who have faith.

Enjoy Brian Johnson's 'Love came Down'.
 
 
When I was a young boy, I had found a collection of inspirational poems in a used book shop. I begged my mom to pay the indicated 4$ (and even included the guilt-inducing wide eyes). She was graceful enough to oblige and I began to read it fervently. 

It has since become the best 4$ investment I ever begged my mom to make. Out of that collection was a poem called 'The Touch of the Master's Hands'. 

I wrote a short blog post a while back on it but I recently stumbled upon an essay of the author by Lilly Walters, from the 'One Hand Typing and Keyboarding'.  

For Myra, writing such a telling image of Grace came from a deep personal experience. Enjoy Ms Walters' bio of Ms Brook Welch.
 
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Meet Myra Brooks Welch.

Myra Brooks Welch, a resident of La Verne, California, was called "The poet with the singing soul." Hers was a very musical family. As a young woman, Myra’s special love was playing the organ.

In 1921, she heard a speaker address a group of students. She said she became filled with light, and "Touch of the Master’s Hand wrote itself in 30 minutes!" She sent it anonymously to her church news bulletin. She felt it was a gift from God, and didn’t need her name on it. It’s popularity spread like magic. Finally, several years later, the poem was read at a religious international convention - "author unknown." A young man stood up and said, "I know the author, and it’s time the world did too. It was written by my mother, Myra Welch."
    
Then her name, as well her other beautiful works of poetry became known worldwide. All of her poetry told of the rejoicing she had in God’s love.

What the world did not see, was the woman who created these masterpieces: Myra in her wheelchair, battered and scarred from severe arthritis, which had taken away her ability to make music. Instead, her musical soul spoke through her poetry. 
She took one pencil in each of her badly disabled hands. Using the eraser end, she would slowly type the words, the joy of them outweighing the pain of her efforts. Her words, a joyous expression of the wonders of life, as seen by a singing soul, touched by the Master’s Hand.

(c) 2003, Lilly Walters, from the 'One Hand Typing and Keyboarding' 
 
 
Once in a very rare blue moon, a story comes along that takes my breath away, pulls out the tears hidden deep in my ducts and rips my attention away from everything else. In return, the story gives back an undying admiration to the graceful choices made, the inspiration to live courageously and a fresh perspective on 'sweating my small stuff'. 

But beyond the touching story, beyond the singing talent, beyond the courage to go on stage, I am in awe of the mother's compassion, mercy and grace. Moira Kelly chose to care for and raise abandoned and disabled brothers she found at an orphanage.

I can't help but see this as an example of God's Grace towards me. I was crippled by my sin, helpless and abandoned in a shoebox without hope and facing certain death. He reached down, through Christ,  to find me, to take care of me, to love me, to guide me and to give an eternal hope for an eternal home.

Enjoy the blue moon.
 

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