Accepting the Gift of Grace

Posted: Feb 23, 2024

In the past two weeks we’ve walked Into the Valley of the Heart, where our pain, shame, fear, and love-hunger reside. We looked at the places in our heart that have been wounded and hardened by lies in Spring of Life, or Concrete Block? Now, we ask, do you believe God loves you? I’m not talking theology or doctrine here. Belief springs from the heart; knowledge is stored in the mind. There are many who know Scripture and can quote it at will but have empty, walled-off, bankrupt hearts and are faking it. Does the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy and peace and more) flow from the core of your heart, or are you a poser who is dying inside?

Accepting the Gift of Grace

From The Road to Grace, Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:4–10

The opening minutes of Les Miserables, the 1998 film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s book of the same name, serves up one of the most poignant scenes of grace I’ve ever seen. Set in 19th century France, the film opens as Jean Valjean (pronounced John Valjohn) a hardened criminal who’d just been released from prison is lying on a park bench late at night, trying to go to sleep. Valjean is filthy, and dressed in worn out clothes.

After an old woman points him to a nearby church, Valjean knocks on the door, which is opened by a priest. Valjean shows his passport, which identifies him as a convict, and curtly asks the priest if he might spare any food. To Valjean’s surprise, the priest warmly invites him in for dinner and a room for the night. Nineteen years of harsh treatment in chains have conditioned Valjean to expect rejection and cruelty, not kindness, and he refuses to believe that the priest will take him in. He reiterates that he’s a convict to the priest—twice—but the offer for food and lodging still stands.

In spite of the priest’s hospitality, Valjean is more scorning than thankful. As he wolfs down his food, Valjean makes a sarcastic remark about murder being his crime—and that he could do the same to the priest. (He later reveals that he received his long prison term because of stealing food.) When the priest makes a remark about man’s unjustness in relation to the harsh life Valjean has endured, Valjean bitterly accuses God of being the same.

Later that night after everyone is asleep, Valjean gets up and begins piling the priest’s silverware into a large cloth bag. Awakened by the noise, the priest walks into the room—and comes face to face with the man who is now stealing from him. With a look of scorn, Valjean slugs the priest’s face so hard that he’s knocked unconscious, and then flees the church, clutching the bag of silverware.

The next morning, as the priest is gardening with Madame Gilot, the police arrive with Valjean and the sack of silverware in hand. After one of the officers asks the priest if he had given Valjean the bag of silverware, the priest, who’s sporting a black eye courtesy of his former houseguest, tells them he did indeed give the silverware to Valjean—and then sends a shocked Madame Gilot into the house to fetch their silver candlesticks (which are worth at least 2,000 francs) to give to Valjean.

After Madame Gilot reappears with the candlesticks, the priest takes them, and asks her to bring the police officers inside for some wine. As she escorts the officers into the church, the priest places the candlesticks in the bag of silverware, and then thrusts it into the arms of Valjean, who is now more bewildered than ever.

Valjean stands there, frozen, clutching a bag of silverware worth thousands of francs, given to him by the man who he’d beaten just hours ago. A man, who, to Valjean’s shame, has showed him nothing but kindness from the moment he met him. A pained look comes over Valjean’s face; accepting love is hard for one who’s been trained to expect rejection and cruelty. He now has a simple choice to make: he can drop the cloth bag and refuse the priest’s generosity and kindness, or he can accept it.

It is the acceptance of this gift that forever changes the former convict’s life. In the rest of the movie we see a new Valjean; a man of compassion who freely gives the same gifts of mercy that he’s received to others.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

I have been in Jean Valjean’s shoes. Like the former convict, I was spiritually filthy, dispirited and hardened, and yet, Jesus invited me to come to Him. In spite of His kindness (and even while I was a Christian), I looked the Lord in the eye, and struck Him by turning to porn, lust, or promiscuity. “You’re not enough for me, Jesus, I want lust instead.” I was Jean Valjean and Peter all rolled up into one; I might as well have said, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72).

In spite of how I treated Him, the Lord continued packing a bag full of His vessels of grace for me—a bag that, unlike Valjean, I refused to accept. Years ago, during a time when I was traveling often and binging on porn in hotel rooms, the words “Beloved of the Lord” were brought to my mind repeatedly over a number of weeks. “These words can’t be for me; they can’t be from God,” I thought. “It must be my imagination.” I expected judgment and wrath from the Lord, not love.

Like Valjean, we expect God’s love to be as small, shallow, distorted by false motives, and performance-based as the love we’ve encountered from other broken men and women. Maybe we think He will shame, abuse, or condemn us for our faults.

God’s love is nothing like that of man. If the priest tried to give Valjean the sack of valuables in four separate instances and got decked every time, what are the chances he would have kept trying? If a man has multiple affairs on his wife, how much pain and betrayal can she take before she leaves? I carried on a love affair with lust and sex for twenty years, and yet the Lord kept calling me and inviting me in; there were times when I’d binge on porn just minutes after talking with Him. In spite of the ways we abuse Him, the Lord keeps knocking on the door of our heart.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love
with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our
transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Ephesians 2:4–7

The passage above from Ephesians reveals a God Who loves even when we are striking, denying, and running away from Him. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10); He intentionally seeks the Jean Valjeans of this world in order to win their hearts, even as they eye Him with contempt. This is the “great love that He loves us with.”

I want you to notice that there isn’t a list of names of persons whom God doesn’t love, namely yours, in Ephesians 2:4. The text doesn’t say “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved everyone but (fill in the blank with your name)….” His grace is yours for the taking.

There’s no gray zone when it comes to the love of God. Either His Word is true, and He loves you with the “great love” He says He does… or He doesn’t and it’s all a lie. Just as Jean Valjean had a choice whether he would accept or refuse the bag of tableware from the priest, you have a choice as to whether you will receive the love of God, or refuse it.

Sadly, there are many who choose the latter, which is why hell has no shortage of occupants. Some are deceived by lies, while others intentionally choose themselves, people, pleasure, money, or other things over God’s love. Some try to pretend He doesn’t exist, which, to me, takes a lot more faith than believing in Almighty God.

If you believe that the Lord is the creator of the Universe and His words are true, then the only conclusion you can come to is that He loves you, regardless of your past, what you’ve done, or what others have said.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are
perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18

Jesus wasn’t messing around when He went to the cross; can you picture Him taking the torture He did because He loved us only a little? Or because He wanted to be a nice God that day? Most Christians have no idea how powerful Jesus’ act on the cross was; all of God’s love, power and mercy were poured out through His death and made available to us. We receive the Holy Spirit because of the cross (Acts 2:38); it was His Spirit saying “Beloved of the Lord” to me. (Satan, I am sure, has no motive to say such a thing.) We receive the power to overcome sin from the cross (1 Peter 2:24), and, we are adopted into the family of God as His beloved children because of it:

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”
1 John 3:1

Because of the cross, we have been given a treasure trove of spiritual blessings…

“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.”
Ephesians 1:3

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge
of God and Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given
us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through
the knowledge of Him who called us by His glory and virtue,
by which have been given to us exceedingly great
and precious promises, that through these you may be
partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the
corruption that is in the world through lust.”
2 Peter 1:2–4

Many Christians are keeping themselves trapped in shame and despair, as I did, because they won’t allow the Son of God to hold them, love them, and care for them. When He whispers “Beloved of the Lord,” they push Him away, thinking He can’t be saying such words to them. What they don’t realize is that they’re rejecting all the power and love of God that they’ve been seeking all of their life.

God the Father sent His Son to be butchered for you and me because He is love (1 John 4:8), and He wants you to receive that glowing bag of blessings and love He’s thrust in your chest. Whether you realize it or not, you’re already surrounded and submerged by His grace. Even as you’re reading this book, He’s calling to you, inviting you in.

So how do we receive the gift of His grace? First, we rarely receive presents from persons we don’t know, which means first building a relationship with God until we know we can trust Him. From what we’ve discussed in this chapter, we know that the Lord is our friend.

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does
not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:15

We are His true friends if we’ve made the decision to forsake lust and sexual sin and make Him the Lord of our life…

“and whatever we ask we receive from Him,
because we keep His commandments
and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”
1 John 3:22

…and if we believe He is the God of Grace He says He is:

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him,
for he who comes to God must believe that He is
and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Hebrew 11:6

Then, we must approach the person who wishes to give us the gift, as was discussed in the last chapter, (“Come to me so that you may have life,” John 5:40.) Our friends don’t lob gifts to us from afar, especially if it’s a heavy cloth bag filled with expensive silverware and other precious items. We must approach them so we can receive the gift.

When we’re face-to-face with the Living God and He’s pressing a huge bag of grace in on us, we don’t question the gift, whether we’re worthy of it, or why He wants to give it to us. We wouldn’t say, “Wait here for me, Lord; I need to go study the Bible first so I can get my theology straight. I’ll get back to you when I get it.” Only a fool would dare insult the Creator of the Universe by saying, “I’ll accept your gifts of love after you tell me how I can earn them.”

The definition for the word “receive” is “to take or acquire something given, offered, or transmitted.” What Jesus offers, we can take! Like a child on Christmas morning, we can grab the gift and rip it open! We can celebrate by dancing around the room with joy, and shout aloud with praise and thanksgiving for that which is now ours to keep forever. We can weep for joy because the Most Powerful Being in the Universe is a God of light, love, and peace, and we can enjoy sweet communion with Him for the rest of our earthly life, and into eternity. There is no more striving to earn the gift, no more shame, no more listening to Satan’s lies that we’ve sinned too much for God to love us—and no need for the pathetic counterfeit of lust. The love of God is, has been, and always will be, ours to keep (Romans 8:35).

Receiving God’s love isn’t a one-time event; we’re invited to keep going back to Him for more for the rest of our life, and what a blessing it is to do so.

It was September of 2003, and I was burned out. We had endured financial stress for two years due to a failing business that was eventually sold at a loss, and had needed to sell our house to pay off some debts. We found a buyer in late July, and he gave us two weeks to pack up and move out. By the time we made the mad dash to pack up and then move out on one of the hottest days of the year, I was drained of all energy and enthusiasm.

I knew I needed some time to get my batteries recharged with the Lord, but wasn’t able to take a vacation. The new business I’d started was growing, and demanded my attention, and our kids were back in school; life was moving forward and I had to keep up.

I had to make a business trip to Southern California, and decided to stay the weekend alone in a city that few would choose—Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is a small, isolated desert town, three hours’ drive southeast of Los Angeles, in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are no fast food restaurants, no freeways, a few stoplights, and a population of about 2,500… in the non-summer months, that is. From July through September, when the temperatures hit 110+ degrees, some of the locals vacate the city for cooler temperatures, and a number of the stores are closed. The town is set in a valley enclosed from the west by dry, rocky hills; the desert floor of which is landscaped with an occasional palm tree, green cactus, and floating brown tumbleweeds.

My hotel, a desert resort, was set back from the hills a couple of miles. Having been there before, I knew there was a small grove of palm trees about a 10 minute walk from the hotel towards the hills, and it was here where I planned to meet with the Lord.

I arrived at the hotel on a Friday night, and woke up early Saturday morning, eager to make my way to the palm grove. I grabbed my Bible, and as I was starting to leave the room, three words broke through: “Bring a pen.” I was in a hurry to reach my destination and ignored it, shut the door, and started walking.

But those same words came back again: “Bring a pen.” This time, I got the point that the Lord wanted me to record something He had to say. I ran back in the room and grabbed a pen.

There are few places suited for seeking God like the desert. Here there is none of the din, clamor and distractions that are found in the city; only rugged terrain, scorching temperature, and silence that is as thick as the heat. Quiet solitude calms, deepens and strengthens a man’s heart, opening the door for intimate communion with the Living God. The Lord trained Moses in the wilderness for 40 years, raised John the Baptist there, and sent Jesus into it for 40 days prior to the start of His earthly ministry. We do our best listening and receiving in silence.

“In quietness and trust is your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15

The grove is made up of a collection of seven large desert palm trees, each which are 12 to 15 feet tall. The wide green fronds at the top of each tree float gently like silent fans, providing shade for any visitors who make use of the picnic bench that the Department of Park and Recreation has placed there for visitors.

After taking a few moments to breathe in the quiet serenity of the environment around me, I opened my Bible, hunted around in the Psalms, and settled in with chapter 63. The third verse stood out: “Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you.”

I turned the implication of those words over in my mind; the Psalmist was saying that God’s love is better than being alive and all that goes with it: success in work or ministry, money, sex, people, or having fun. Wanting to know more about this incredible love, I quickly scanned the surrounding chapters, and found 59:10: “My God in His lovingkindess will meet me.” Verse 16 added: “I shall joyfully sing of Thy lovingkindness in the morning.”

Then, I had a strong sense I wasn’t alone, and His voice broke through again: “I have made you and I love you; you are dear to me.”
“Is that you Lord?” I wondered aloud. Could He really be speaking such wonderful words to me? Or was this just something I was making up in my head?
He pressed in deeper: “I love you Mike.”

At hearing this, my dry, crusty heart melted into a burst of joy; tears streamed down my face as I was instantly filled to overflowing with light, love, and peace. It felt like Heaven. I spent several minutes singing quiet praises to the Lord, thanking Him for the precious gift of His presence that morning. His love is better than life, and His blazing grace is truly amazing; He presses in even when I’m ignoring Him, distracted, or doubting.

I knew now what the pen was for, and quickly wrote in a blank page at the back of my Bible the verses I’d read in Psalms that morning, along with the words the Lord had spoken to me. At the bottom of the page I wrote “9-20-03, Borrego Springs.”

I think the Lord had me grab a pen that morning not just for me, but also for you, because I believe He wants to meet with you, and shower you with this love that is better than life.

I shall finish this book here, in hopes that you will approach Him in a quiet place, and receive it. There is no greater blessing than that which comes from being in the Presence of the Living God.

“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love
of God has been poured out within our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Romans 5:5

“But to each one of us grace was given
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
Ephesians 4:7

“You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
Psalms 16:11

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