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Layman's Walk

“When Were You Saved?”

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This is a question you’ll often hear Christians ask one another.  Sometimes the question is different: “Have you been saved?”

This often results in the respondent giving a variety of answers from something as brief as saying they prayed a special prayer they were taught in a Sunday school class to a major life-changing event when they were so deeply inspired by the presence of God they found faith.

These stories can be wonderful to hear and I love to see the excitement people have and the expression of their faith as they tell them.

Quite often, not always, but often, there’s a common theme, and it might sound like the following:
– “I made the decision…”
– “I decided…”
– “I became…”

The focus is often on “I,” or “me,” the sinner, not on God.

This is a delicate topic because these events are real, spiritual events.  They are, for many people, the point in their lives when they recognized God’s saving grace.

I say the “the point when they recognized God’s saving grace” rather than “when they were saved” (I know, it’s subtle) because God’s power to save is independent of any individual. While we may appear or feel like we are making a decision, we as humans do not have the ability on our own to have faith. Rather, faith itself is a gift from God, inspired in us by the Holy Spirit.

I realize this may seem like a minor difference, but it is actually larger than that.  Does it make a difference in how that person felt at the time of their ‘saving story’ or does understanding this make anyone more or less ‘saved?’ Of course not.

It’s really just recognizing that the first chapter in all of humanity’s saving story is about actions taken and decisions made by God. It’s a slight change in the understanding of how God’s saving grace works and the fact that our participation in it is significantly less than we often think.

Additionally, it is crucial that Christians do not use the “saving story” as some sort of litmus test to try to tell people “whether they’re going to heaven or not.”  The fact of the matter is, God is the only one who knows the answer to that question we often see on church billboards:  “Where are YOU going?”  God is the only one who gets to make that decision–period.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Below is a generic ‘saving story.’ You may have one similar or have heard one similar to this.

“I was at Sunday school and we were talking about Jesus. Our teacher told us we have to accept Jesus into our hearts in order to be saved. I knew this was what I wanted because I wanted to go to heaven. Our teacher told us a prayer to say to ask Jesus into our hearts. I repeated the lines along with her. It was then I was saved and I felt good knowing that when I die I’ll be in heaven with Jesus.”

Here’s that same story again with the first chapter:

“I was listening to the lesson my Sunday school teacher was telling us. It was about how Jesus died on a cross as a substitute for us and our sins. He did this because God loves us unconditionally. The Holy Spirit worked in my teacher as she told us this story and the Spirit moved in me, and my heart was opened to this understanding that God’s love and saving grace was also for me. It made me feel different–I had a sense of peace and love, and I knew that what I had learned was the truth–that God sent Jesus to die for my sins.”

Now obviously, if this were actually a story retold by a child in Sunday school, there’s little chance it would sound like the second example. When we are first teaching the young people or anyone who is new to the faith, it’s difficult to explain concepts like substitution, grace, and the movement or inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The “saving story” concept is easier than the larger, impractical, theological discussion

It is important to be careful not to pressure people with terror and fear of eternal damnation.  Don’t claim, “if you don’t do X, Y, and Z you’re going to hell.”  God is not looking for people to run to God in terror, fearing eternal punishment.  God is looking for us to recognize God’s love for us and, in turn, love God and others.  Like a parent can coerce a child into compliance through threats of punishment or encourage a child in love to get the same result, only the latter establishes a relationship that is healthy and mutually loving.  God is not a scorekeeper or an auditor checking boxes.  God is mercy and love.

As our faith matures, it is important to be able to look back on our “saving stories” with new eyes. When we do, we realize that our being saved is much bigger than a decision we made or a prayer we prayed. It wasn’t at the time that we were actually saved–it’s when we realized it.

We were destined to be saved by grace in Christ before creation came into existence. As the Gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was the pivotal moment when God’s grace was fulfilled for all people–those who had come before, those who were alive then, and all those who came after (including us). As Paul tells us in 1 Timothy:

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Two key things to note in this passage. First, what God “wants.” It is safe to say, if God wants something, God will have it. If God wants something done, it will be done. Second, it states that Jesus was a ransom for “all” people–not some, not those who were worthy, not a select group–All.

Ultimately, it is God who makes the decision for the salvation of humanity, not us. “Saving stories” are “recognizing that we have been saved stories” rather than stories of “being saved at that particular point in time.”

Salvation is achieved not through human will, but though God acting in us through the faith that is God-given.

Subtle?  Yeah.

True?  Yep.


(When was I saved?  About 2,000 years ago, but it had been decided before the universe was made.  When did I come to truly realize it?  I knew it as fact since I was a kid, but I learned it as faith at East Bay Methodist Church Camp during the summer of 1996 when I was 15.  And I rediscover it each day.)




Layman's Walk

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?!

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As an often-frustrated parent, I’ve found myself asking my kids the same questions over and over again:

“Why did you do that?”

“Haven’t I told you this needs to be done?”

“What do you mean, ‘you forgot?’  It’s the same every day!”

“You knew what was going to happen if you did that, and you did it anyway?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!  WHY!? Ahhh!!”

“You know very well that we don’t behave that way.  Your mom and I expect better than that from you.”

“Guys, it’s bedtime–it’s the same routine. Every. Single. Night.”

“What?  I have to tell you to brush your teeth?  You don’t just do this on your own??”

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

And yet, the other day as I was sitting on the couch with my wife lamenting what seemed to be the complete inability of our children to follow even the easiest instructions, my younger son, Evan, came into the room and said, “Daddy, I love you!  Can I have a hug and kiss?”

And my heart melted.  I bent over and picked him up and gave him a big ol’ hug and a kiss.  He hugged me back as tightly as he could (which I love).  Hugs with my kids are never quick–I love to hold them close.  I cherish how small they still are, even as they grow bigger every day.  I love the feeling of their arms wrapped tightly around my neck, the softness of their faces when they put their cheek against mine, and the sound of their breath as I hear them relax and recharge–knowing their daddy loves them more than they can possibly understand.

When I finally put him down, he went running off.  After about two or three steps, he turned around and shouted, “Thanks, Daddy!”  “You bet!  I love you!” I hollered as he cleared the room, happy to get back to whatever he was doing.

I looked over at Kari and asked her, “How is it that something you and I created together can be both the source of some of my greatest frustration and also the source of some of my greatest joy, meaning, and love?”

“I don’t know!” she responded as we both laughed.  It was funny because of the irony of the situation and because I had completely forgotten about what was frustrating me so badly to begin with!

As I sat there mulling this over in my head, a quiet voice said almost silently, “<chuckle> I know the feeling!”

How true that much be of our own loving Creator!

How often must God ask those same questions of us, God’s own children:

“Why did you do that?”

“Haven’t I told you this needs to be done?”

“What do you mean, ‘you forgot?’  It’s the same every day!”

“You knew what was going to happen if you did that, and you did it anyway?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!  WHY!? Ahhh!!”

“You know very well that we don’t behave that way.  I expect better than that from you.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

We know that as children of God we are incapable of meeting God’s expectations.  It can be the Ten Commandments of Moses, Jesus expansion of those commandments, or even just the simple on Jesus himself gives us:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.  And love you neighbor as yourself.”  We never get it right–whether we’re trying at all or trying with all our might.

What a source of frustration humanity must be for its creator!  To have been given such basic instruction (even so much that we have a basic understanding of “right and wrong” essentially hard-wired into our nature) that was then simply ignored must be aggravating.

Let’s be honest, so many of God’s instructions to us are similar to the instruction we receive throughout our own lives:

  • Don’t hit (let alone kill).
  • Share with others; be generous.
  • Be nice.
  • Don’t judge others because you’re not perfect either.
  • Speak kindly about others.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t hurt other people.
  • Don’t be promiscuous.
  • Be faithful to one another.
  • Don’t take what isn’t yours–whatever that happens to be.
  • Forgive others.
  • Love others.

And yet, as a loving parent, God was willing to live with us, his children, in our weak condition to show us how to live and how to love.  Even more importantly, God showed us how much he loves us by going so far as to die a horrible death at the hands of those to whom he had only shown love and mercy.

It makes sense; what parent wouldn’t be willing to die, even in a terrible way, to save their kids?

Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Think on that–if we who are imperfect know how to do right by others, how much more must God be able to do that?  Take it a step further:  If we who are imperfect are frustrated at how others cannot follow simple instructions, how frustrating must that be to God who is perfect?”

But the good news I found is this:  “Even as a frustrated, imperfect, human parent, how much love do I have for my kids when they come to me?  More than I ever knew I had!  And if as a sinner I can give that much love to my own children, how much more will God give to us, God’s own disobedient children, when we come to him looking for forgiveness, help, and love?!”

Thanks to God for unending grace, hope, and love!




Layman's Walk

New Life!

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(This has been stuck in my drafts folder since June 28!  You’d think an IT guy would be better with technology!!)

I am always in awe at a new birth!

Tuesday was one of celebration for our family. My wife, Kari, and I became an Aunt and Uncle again! (And our children gained a new handsome cousin!)

This time, it was on her side of the family. Her baby sister (who I have known since she was all of 8 years old) had a baby boy: Brycen Lee LeClair. This young gent was born about a week early at over 7 lbs and over 20″ long. Mommy and baby are happy and healthy. That in itself is a fantastic blessing.

When I reflect on the births of my four children, as well as those of both my wife’s sister and my sister (and frankly, anyone else!) I consistently find myself in awe.

The idea that we, as a human being, can create something so beautiful and pure is astounding to me.

Yes, I understand biology and evolution. I completely understand that without the ability to reproduce in a viable manner no species would survive. I also appreciate that human evolution has taught us to find the “cuteness” in our own offspring to prevent us from abandoning them.

I look at the whole system in awe. That we, as beings made of “star stuff” (as said by the great Carl Sagan), are capable of not only being conscious and aware but of also creating others in our own likeness, is amazing.

In my own children, I am seeing the development of individuals, of powerful personalities, of unique beings. It floors me.

When I consider my own imperfections and weaknesses and see that I still have offspring who may overcome those particular issues, I am in awe.

I’m reminded of this every time I see a new life born. And it continues to blow my mind, even more, when I am close to the new baby’s parents.

No parents have a hope of being perfect. Yet the child born to them is (at least for a while)!

Taking it a step further, I know many wonderful, loving, and imperfect couples who haven’t their own biological children. I have watched these wonderful and loving people bring a child into their home and love them as their own–who in fact, do become their own–and it is, to me, another great wonder of humanity and of life.

When I see or think of that new life, I can’t help but compare this new life in humanity to the new life we are promised in Christ.  All of us, from the youngest baby to the oldest man or woman, will face the same inevitable fate.  Our lives are finite.  Yet in Christ, we are promised new life in Him.

Celebrate life.  Share love.


Layman's Walk

Class Registration….What?

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July 11, 2017

Apparently, it is a good idea to check the e-mail address associated with the college you’re planning to attend!!!

Thank the good Lord for my friend Brian Moeller who shot me a note this morning asking about my progress towards seminary! I got all my classes registered by 10 a.m. so no problem there. Also got all my books for said courses ordered promptly.

I’m quite excited about the classes I’ll be taking this first semester at Luther Seminary!