If we took all our cues from culture and the wind, we would forgive another’s sin just to be rid of him and his unpleasantness. “Executive forgiveness” assumes that we should benefit from the transaction—that moving past our bitterness is the chief reason we forgive the one who wounded us. “Get over toxic feelings keeping you imprisoned,” a hundred self-help books inform us. “Discover liberation in forgiving those who injured you.” And like all harmful substitutes, there’s a gram of truth in what they say. One consequence of offering forgiveness is living forward—and not backward—for we find some joy in dropping all that baggage. But forgiveness as Jesus loved and lived it doesn’t count how we will feel when we forgive. Forgiveness is redeeming someone broken; freeing them from guilt and shame; offering them the chance to live restored and reconciled. It’s love, not self-esteem or self-protection, that makes us lift the load that’s crushing them. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). Forgiveness moves us closer to the wounding ones, as Jesus always moves toward us when we are bitter, broken, acting out. It’s love that calls the prodigal back home, and grace that spreads a banquet of togetherness. Forgive as you have been forgiven. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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The ache in every life is change—change bitter, deadly attitudes; change toxic habits that destroy our health; change self-defeating fantasies of privilege and power. That ache has pushed uncounted millions to quick-fix themselves, clean up their act.  How do I tame my tongue?  When will I control unproductive—and unholy—thoughts?  Can I forgive my enemies? How will I pull myself from all the easy, sleazy ruts I traveled in for years? And so we  buy the self-help books; we make our lists.  We scan the magazines and websites for ten tips to overcome our anger; six strategies to conquer lust; three things that will reduce our appetite for all things cheap and tawdry.  Whole industries today depend on our obsessive quest to fix ourselves. Grace offers us a better way to change—a path so hopeful—yes, and joyful—we are deep-surprised at just how quick the progress comes in what we once thought unchangeable.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4). When we attach ourselves to Him—when we cease focusing on failures and start growing with the only One who fixes all our pasts and futures—wonderful, amazing change begins.  First sprouts, then flowers, then fruits appear: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22). Connect to Christ.  And stay in grace. 

-Bill Knott

 

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The day we lose our gratitude is when we learn how tough life is. Like three-year olds asserting self, we claim we don’t need help or guidance. “I’ll do it by myself,” we say, though what we are attempting is far harder than clean faces or shoelaces. And so we sally forth to fix what’s broken in our world and us. When friendships fray, we use our wits, and watch in sadness till they’re permanently lost. We climb the office steps, dismayed that we are out of breath from all the jockeying and gossip. Marriages creak forward toward gray photo anniversaries, remembering the days of laughter and of love. The missing piece is gratitude, and Someone to be grateful to. We didn’t gift ourselves with healthy life, protect ourselves from many woes, or build the circles that bring joy. These are the Father’s kindnesses, unfolding from a heart of grace. God gives because it’s in His heart to give. His grace is love applied to pain. “Lord, everything You have made will praise You. Those who belong to You will bless You” (Psa 145:10). Our gratitude is just the truth about the goodness of our God. Begin this day with grace-anointed lips: say “Thank you” ten—a hundred—times. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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“That’s unbelievable,” we say, by which we mean “surprising. “Incredible,” we gasp, when we should say “amazing.” But the good news of the Father’s love for us was meant to be believed—trusted, taken in, absorbed—even when it runs against the grain of all the hard-edged stories some have told of Him. While young in faith, our ears were sometimes filled with stories of an angry God, a frowning deity who took His vengeance out in hurricanes and settled scores with thunderstorms. By all accounts, this God was invariably upset with us—disappointed by the sadly predictable ways we failed to keep His law, reform our ways, and live to bring Him glory. And when the gospel of His grace first sounded in our hearts, it seemed a counter-narrative, as though describing some new God. But Jesus, image of the unseen Father, told us—showed us—what was always irrefutably true: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Grace is the way God thinks of us. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). Repent of any untrue view of Him. Believe the goodness of our God. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Within the castle of our fears, inside the moat well-filled with pride, we wonder why this life we chose seems lonely and unhappy. Our citadel seems much more like a prison. We wanted strength, we said, so we built battlements and gates to keep our painful secrets safe. We rarely let the drawbridge down, for we have much to guard. But from the turret we can see a joyous life we long to live—a liberated life, well-filled with love, with kindly people laughing, caring, trusting and forgiving. Grace always builds for us communities of hope. It brings companions who, like us, once lived behind grim castle walls. We learn, in time, the undefended life, where broken people are made whole, where we admit how much we need the healing freely ours in Jesus.  We trade our fears for faithful friends: we drain the moat; we plant peace lilies on the walls. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). And so we find the life we crave—where we are neither lonely in our sins nor alone in our salvation. The grace we’re given gradually becomes the grace we share with those still trapped behind dark castle walls. “Come down; come out,” we chorus at the stones. “Come live the shared, abundant life Christ promises to prisoners.” And all who do can stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Our stories are distressingly familiar. We start each week, or each new day, with adamant intention: I will lose weight; I won’t lose patience with the kids; I’ll treat my colleagues kindly; I won’t waste hours surfing on the Web. And only hours or days later, we note the uptick on the scale; the strangely quiet children who endured our angry words; the whispering around the water cooler; the useless rantings of a hundred posts that only fenced us off from love. Our best intentions are like “ropes of sand.” Convinced by all those self-improvement books that mastery is within our grasp, we measure all the transient things that never plumb the depths of our true brokenness. There’s only one good work worth mentioning, according to the God who made us and redeemed us: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” Jesus said, referring to Himself. When we admit our inability to makes ourselves leaner, kinder, wiser and more patient, we open up our lives to Him who says, “I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Our wholeness is the gift of grace: we cannot reach it by ourselves. If virtues ever grace our lives, it will be grace at work in us. Invite grace in, and give it room. And it will stay with you.

-Bill Knott

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We haven’t lived the same life stories, or even understood each other from the start. Our differences are many and profound. Our ancestors didn’t share the same small towns in Poland, Ghana, Mississippi or Nebraska. We didn’t attend the same schools; have similar access to good jobs; like the same food or music at our picnics; or experience equal pay—or equal justice. We hurt differently, but we know what pain is. We grieve our losses and celebrate our joys in ways uniquely meaningful to us. We may share faith, but not the same one. Our beliefs are often different. And yet we choose to walk together, trusting that the time we spend in listening and in telling will build trust, ease conflicts. We can share a kind and valued humanity as sons and daughters of a loving Father. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:12). The miles ahead are dusty and unknowable. And yet we choose, because of grace, to take the next step forward on the road. We trust the miles we share and stories we tell to lead us to God’s gracious destination. So walk with me, and let me learn from you. And we will stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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My story of grace starts with an admission I was wrong—lost, stubbornly resistant—and will be many times before my journey is complete. In the overarching narrative of grace, there’s only One who ever got it truly right—only One who both believed and lived perfectly. It was Jesus—not me—who never needed to apologize, or make amends, or ask forgiveness for a fault. And so the community that gathers around Him—the believers who follow Him wherever He goes—are men and women increasingly aware of their own brokenness. They know that every heart has corners where the Spirit doesn’t yet dwell—unredeemed attitudes, prejudices, rusting vats of bitterness. In grace, they bring these to the light where each may be identified, confessed, and yes, through grace forgiven. A legal religion, more committed to correctness than redemption, will always chase away the broken and the flawed, for they can never seem to measure up. But Jesus says to all discouraged by their deficits in holiness, ““Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). By grace, we can still build communities where apologies abound and forgiveness flourishes. The future of our healing starts today. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Dixil Rodriguez serves as a hospital chaplain.  

The Biblical prophet Daniel, about whom no mistake is ever recorded, is found in the book that bears his name “confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (Daniel 9:20). This is how grace acts in times of national and international tragedy—not for “me and mine” but for “us and ours.” Grace doesn’t say, “It wasn’t my fault: I kept myself pure from disease,” or “I’m not responsible for the sins of my ancestors.” Grace moves us to accept responsibility for our neighbor’s faults and the bigotry we inherited from great-grandparents; to pray for the generational sins that have endured in every nation, tribe and people. In this, we begin to fulfill the Biblical counsel: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) The heart renewed by grace is freed to admit responsibility even for mistakes transparently not its own in some specific, legal sense, for grace always moves toward the first person plural—to “we,” to “us,” to “ours.” As those bought by the blood of Jesus, we’ve come to realize that nothing human is foreign to us[1]: my neighbor’s sin might well be mine tomorrow. It’s our pride and ignorance makes us pray as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11). Grace teaches us our place among the broken and the wounded. So, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And stay in grace. – Bill Knott

[1] Edward G. Robinson

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