Those who most need grace from us are those who see us at our best—and at our worst; the people who share houses, schools and cubicles with us. They sleep on the other side of the bed, or in the bedroom down the hall. They are the parents who seemed never to believe in us, or relatives who expect us to give endlessly. They work in the corner office, behind the counter, or any of a hundred places where expectations sometimes clash. They differ on food choices, paint colors, politics and faith. In short, they’re near enough to know if grace has left its mark on us, if gospel values of forgiveness and reconciliation really fill the spaces of our lives. They see the choices that we make—to hold our tongues; to apologize when needed; to not hold grudges; to release our claims on vengeance. And they measure our religion, not by creeds or preached theologies, but by the cold cloth on a feverish night, and the love that has no need to shame. Grace can’t be sought from everyone, but can be shared with anyone. “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11). This is the sum of practical religion—adding grace, subtracting faults. Live the gentleness of Jesus. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Those who fear that a rich embrace of grace always leads us to be careless about following Jesus only illustrate how fear distorts reality. Grace is not—nor ever was—permissiveness. In the center of the story, Jesus dies upon a cross—because the Father’s perfect law required every sinner’s death, or the death of the only One who could atone for them. Grace is not—now or ever—forgiveness without consequences. Lashed and beaten, Jesus bore the punishment we earned, the wages of our sin. “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5). Grace is not—nor ever will be—a declaration by the Father that rebellion doesn’t really matter. If nothing less than Jesus’ sacrifice could make us whole, trust me—no, trust Him: nothing matters more. It’s the deepest proof of the Father’s unfathomable affection for us that He whose law was terribly offended also offered us the way to be restored to Him. And it’s the greatest evidence of our sanity that we choose Jesus, healing, and renewal. Grace is what God says it is—love defeating brokenness. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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An old—and unworkable—policy from the Chicago trainyards once declared: “When two engines approach each other on the same track, neither can move until the other moves first.” It reads like an all-too familiar description of what happens when we find ourselves in conflict with someone. We stay put; we sit tight. We wait for the other to make the first move toward apology or reconciliation. Just as soon as our wounded pride is soothed and our correctness underlined, we’ll become—we promise—the forgiving persons we’ve pledged to be. It’s marvelously fortunate for us that the Father doesn’t act that way—that He takes on Himself the responsibility for moving toward us when we’re stuck in shame and brokenness. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). Grace always moves toward pain and guilt and bitterness. It doesn’t pause to grind in wrongs, or tally all infractions and offenses. It seeks the peace for which we were created, the friendship that’s infinitely more valuable than the sum of others’ failures. “Be kind to one another,” the Scripture says, “tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). And you will stay in grace. - Bill Knott

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On our best days, we just can’t save ourselves. And on our worst, the story is the same. When all our words are moderate and cheerful; when every deed is generous and sweet; when all our weaknesses recede, and all our strengths are trending up—we need God’s grace to save us from unholy satisfaction with ourselves. And when we’re stuck in bitterness and hurt; when we’ve got nothing good to say about ourselves or any of our peers; when we seem chained to old, destructive habits like prisoners to a wall—we need God’s grace to save us from dejection. The acts that save us all belong to Jesus. We offer nothing—deed or word, good or ill—that makes us more entitled to His love, or threatens His affection for the broken and the lost. “For there is no distinction,” the Word of God reminds us, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:22). Remember now the great unchanging, undeterred, and undeserved love of Christ. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Is grace, at heart, believable? ‘Of course,’ you say.  Why not believe?  It’s the noun that always follows “Amazing,” the tune the bagpipers skirl at dawn; the soaring hymn a tenor lifts into a vast cathedral. For some, it may be what the sermon is about, or what we learned in Bible class. But is grace believable at the baseline of our fears—in those tough places in the soul where shame and memory combust to make us cringe again, again?  Does grace reach down below the intellect, the wonderful idea, and heal those wounds we so much never want to show the world? At its heart—and in our hearts—grace offers us what no one else is giving.  Redemption is for real—for all those moments and those years we’ve blown it big and ruined all our future.  “All we like sheep have gone astray. We’ve turned every one to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on Him”—on Jesus, the only righteous one who ever lived—"the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). It seems too good—too kind; too merciful—to be true.  And so we linger in the half-light of our fears, humming a tune we dream might yet be ours. The hymn has outlived every copyright.  God’s grace is clearly in the public domain. Make this song yours.  And stay in grace. - Bill Knott

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These hours between midnight and dawn test the patience of the world. We stumble through the hallways of dark houses. We seek companionship in all-night TV channels and books that used to put us to sleep. We hide from pain or grief that won’t let us close our eyes. Why must dawn wait? Why must the hope of day stretch out so far away? If we could, we’d reach out and pull the first gray light of morning toward us–wrap ourselves in a little bit of hope and cheer. But dawn isn’t within our grasp. Only one man in all history could bring the morning. Just one man could rightfully claim, “I am the light of the world.” Only Jesus could split the prison where we were chained in shame with the marvelous good news of grace and pardon and power and peace. Only He could triumph over death and hell, because only He had experienced—and broken—their power. This hurting world of ours desperately needs the story of His resurrection. This dark planet, racked by war and ravaged by disease, cries out for the good news of that amazing sunrise. Morning has broken, and goodness has won. Celebrate the new life you’ve been given. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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“Papa, please tell me a story.”  That’s Cain, or maybe Abel, asked Adam to tell them a story, a story that will make the past more clear so they can face the future with greater certainty, courage, and hope.  It’s a question every Father and Mother has been asked by the “inquiring minds” who sit beside them in the light of a cooling evening. 
 
Each month I imagine that you have just invited me to “tell you a story,” a true tale of The Creator’s love that will help you understand the past and so face the future with more certainty, courage, and hope. I breath deeply for a long minute, and then pour my heart out to you through my computer. www.adventistworld.org

We wouldn’t ridicule a child who said to us, “I’m really scared. Please hold my hand.” We wouldn’t taunt a hurricane survivor, “Snap out it. Get on with life.” Because we’re human, we know fear. Hurt and pain may come our way; events may spin beyond control; we could lose those that we can’t live without. When all the world is afraid, let’s honor those who own their fear with honesty. It is no sin to be afraid. The fault lies only when we let our fears erode what heaven says we owe each other—grace and truth and gentleness. There’s no just cause for hate or hoarding, prejudice or wounds. Our worry need not make us lose our wits. A hundred times the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid,” or as the better versions have it, “You can stop being afraid now.” There’s just one things that calms our fears—the truth that we aren’t left alone. “Peace I leave with you,” the Lord who calmed the storms declares. “My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Wherever He is welcome, fear declines, then disappears. The grace that saves us also soothes us. Hear the voice above the storm. Take the hand still offered you. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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We were created for community, and nothing so upsets us as required isolation from the people who bring color, warmth, and hope into our lives. The world has quickly grown uncomfortably, unhappily too small. We huddle with our loved ones and thank God that we seem healthy. But each of us knows stories, now coming dangerously close, of illness, fear, and existential panic. Suddenly, we miss the colleague who so regularly annoyed us; the relative who made inconvenient, unannounced visits; the friendly patter when we met our neighbors in the market or the street. The sights and sounds, the rhythms and routines of life a month ago were oddly comforting when we could safely take them all for granted. And time—there seems to be too much of it; open, unplanned, unsure hours when thoughts turn endlessly to wondering: What if? What outcome? And what then? “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” the Father said to Israel (Josh 1:5). “Remember, I am with you always,” the Son promised His disciples. (Matt 28: 20). “You know Him,” Jesus said of the Spirit, “because He abides with you, and He will be in you” (John 14:17).  Eternal love still holds us. There is no better company than Father, Son, and Spirit. Held and healed, warmed, enlightened, we can weather any crisis, any quandary, any virus. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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“Lord, teach us to pray.”

The men who urged Jesus to educate them about prayer weren’t immature or novices.  Each of them had prayed—in penitence; for safety; for a good night’s catch—as part of a life story that led them to careers in fishing, tax collecting, and even political activism. But they had heard from Jesus—from time in close with Jesus—a whole new way of praying, one that began with an entirely new view of God.  Gone was the angry, frowning deity of their imaginations, the God who was always disappointed with them.  For they had heard their Master call this God His “Father”—even “Daddy.”  The grace they found in Jesus opened up a whole new way to pray.  And they were hungry to know more, learn more, pray more.  Grace made them passionate about prayer. So it will be with us.  When we discover what has always been true—that we are loved and held as closely as a parent holds us; that we were truly, eagerly embraced before we had a righteous thought—we unclench our bodies and our minds.  Our prayer becomes an easy, reverent conversation warmed by love, and all our fears diminish.  The Father who loved this world so much that He gave Jesus to us (John 3:16) rejoices when we trust Him, welcome Him, and tell Him everything. Grace leads us first to gratitude, and gratitude to prayer. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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In desert canyons, ferns will flourish, sprouting from the bone-dry walls. None of them is kept alive by current rainfall: little ever reaches them. But rain that cooled the mesa 500 feet above 20 years ago seeps down through sedimentary rock to deliver needed moisture. The source is slow, no doubt, but savingly it keeps the green things growing. So it is with grace in us. The saving wrought by Jesus’ sacrifice began a flow that still is watering whatever’s dry in us. We may have been “saved” in a moment, but the slow water of deep holiness seeps down to the stony layers of relationships and attitudes and deserts we’ve never even hoped to water. One day, we give up grudges, half-surprising ourselves—and certainly surprising those who wounded us. Weeks later, we begin to reach beyond our comfort zone to love the unloved and the graceless. Our most important relationships—our friendships and our marriages—begin to shift: we hold our tongues; we listen more; we offer comfort where we once doled out our wit or scorn. The grace that saves us always changes us—sometimes at once; more often slowly,imperceptibly. This is as fully Jesus’ work as blazing, noonday turnarounds. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). Allow what’s dry to grow toward green. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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When our hearts are full of warmth and we feel in control, it’s easy to be gracious to the ones who give offense. “Forget about it,” we advise them. “It’s no big thing. No worries!“ Forgiveness seems within our reach. We give our grudges to the wind. But when we’re powerless and cold; when we’ve been wounded by deep malice or contempt, we cling to the only weapons we have left—our anger and our memory. We have no grace for villains or the haughty. We pray they get what they deserve. And then we hear again the strange new urgings of the gospel: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Against our narrative of righteous indignation, grace tells us stories that seem impossible. The Lord who urged us to forgive forgives the sins we love to hate—adultery, betrayal, cruel violence, and greed. There’s no rousing of our will that can teach us to forgive like this. Grace is the gift of Christ—from Him to us; from us to them; from them to others still unloved and unforgiven. The sequence is repeatable. When we’re forgiven, we learn grace. We’ll never lack for opportunities to practice what we’ve learned. Remember now how much you’re loved. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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