The Gift of Grace | Devotion #2: Cowboy
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

Growing up, my siblings and I always dreaded family dinner. It was not because my mom was a horrible cook (quite the contrary), but because my dad would often assign one of us to say “grace.” I did not really enjoy praying out loud, because I was unsure of the correct vernacular, and was afraid of saying something wrong. So I guess you can say that in experiencing what I thought grace was, I was afraid I was not going to experience what grace truly is! By definition, it is underserved, or unmerited favor (or forgiveness). This “favor” was demonstrated to us by God sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for us to have a restored relationship with God. It was not until many years later that I started to understand what grace truly is, and how much I have already been shown.

In our ministry, I am afforded the privilege to visit a large number of correctional facilities. As a result, I meet a large number of people who have committed heinous crimes. I never ask what someone has done. I do not want my human level of discernment and sense of justice to influence or cause hesitation in letting the Holy Spirit work through me. For me to think I can justly decide who deserves grace and who does not, diminishes what Jesus Christ did on the cross.

Three years ago, I went into Noble Correctional as a volunteer. It was an awesome setting, as it has a huge grassy hill that the inmates sit on, listen to the band, laugh at the “magician” Rodney, and then hear the Gospel presented to them as the only thing that can invoke “real” change in their lives. Hundreds of men came down to receive a book, and have someone pray with them. I prayed with many men, but when the crowd started to thin, I noticed a man standing off by himself. I had one book left in my hand, so I figured it was for him. As I introduced myself, he told me he went by the name Cowboy. He was reluctant to pray with me about anything. I told him no matter what he had done, God would forgive him even though, just like me, he did not deserve it. He looked at me with a puzzled look, then let me pray for his family and a case he had pending, and then he left.

A year later, we took a basketball team to Noble. As I was running around doing the things I have to do for us to run our program, I heard someone hollering my name repeatedly. I thought it was someone on our team, but when I looked in the direction it was coming from, it was Cowboy! I ran over to him, hugged him, and listened to him share how his life had changed. What I did not know is that Cowboy was serving a life sentence. The case he had pending that I had prayed with him about had a positive result, and now he had a date for his release. He said he felt like God had forgiven him, showed him grace, and now he wants to live for Him. He had accepted Jesus Christ three weeks before we had gotten there, saw the flyer that we were coming, and could not wait to tell me that all of that started from the time he and I had prayed together a year prior.

I read somewhere of a great way to remember what grace is, to think of it as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! Titus 2:11-14 puts it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

When I was growing up, I thought grace was a verb. Something we did. What Cowboy and I have found out for ourselves is that grace is actually a noun. It is something we receive. It is a true unperishable gift from God, wrapped in the unblemished package of His son, Jesus Christ, and His sacrificial work on the cross. It is undeserved forgiveness from God that is truly amazing.

Every year for three years now, when we go to Noble, Cowboy and I meet up, shed a few tears, and share stories of how God has worked in our lives and shown us unending grace. How about you? Have you experienced God’s endless grace? 

Age of Accountability

The Gift of Grace | Devotion #1: Age of Accountability
Roger Allen | Recovery Director

At the age of fifteen, I stood in a small clearing in the middle of the woods looking skyward. I desperately needed an answer to my question, “Is God real?” This question had burned in me for some time. Deep down I knew He existed, but those around me seemed to think otherwise. Struggling with a lack of faith in His knowledge He had imparted in me, I did the only thing I could think of, I challenged Him. Not knowing what the cost could be, I asked God to prove His existence. Shaking my fist in the air, I asked Him to strike me down to prove He was real. There was nothing but silence.

Sadly, this story is true. It would not be the last time I would challenge God’s authority, but it may have been the first. It truly was my “age of accountability.” I could no longer behave as if I were innocent. I continued to go to all the wrong places for the answers, yet I found nothing. It would be more than thirty years before I received the answer for which I was searching. He showed me how He had worked upstream in my life long before I was born. It was a truly unmerited favor.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

As we see, nothing we can do will produce the results we are looking for without the “gift of God” in our lives. It is by grace we are saved, and it is because of grace we have faith. Often times this can create a struggle within the believer and will always cause strife within those who do not believe. To understand that God is the giver of all including His grace in our lives, can be a difficult one. We would like to take credit so we can lift ourselves above others. Yet, the Bible makes it very clear in Romans 9:14-16 of Who is in charge, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

This is the sovereign choice of God to impart mercy on whom He will. Our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite wisdom of God. In fact, in Job chapter 38, God has a great conversation with Job about his ignorance and folly. We would do well to learn from the text, knowing apart from God’s tender mercies and grace, we are nothing.

Best Holiday, Best Gift

The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #6: Best Holiday, Best Gift
Gareth Volz | Seniors 55+ Director

If you ask people what their favorite holiday is, most people will answer “Christmas” without hesitation. Christmas is a time when we exchange gifts with the ones we love. We know what our loved ones need or desire, and we buy or make gifts that will be a blessing to them. It brings us joy when our loved ones open our gifts and are surprised, excited, and thankful. Their joy blesses us.

If we are honest, we also hope our loved ones will bless us with gifts that we need or desire. As we share in the exchanging of gifts, we show each other our love. However, most of the gifts we give at Christmas satisfy for only a short amount of time. New needs and desires enter our life, and the gifts we were given a few weeks or months ago are not as important and maybe even forgotten.

However, Christmas is not about the gifts we give others or the gifts they give us, but rather God’s gift to all mankind. In 2 Corinthians 9:15, Paul said, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.” God’s inexpressible gift that first Christmas was His Son, Jesus, the Christ (the Messiah).

God’s creation was perfect, and man was created to walk with God and have a beautiful relationship with Him. But man sinned, and God cannot have fellowship with sinners. Therefore, because God loved us so much, He created a perfect plan to restore man’s fellowship with Him. Since the penalty for sin is death, God sent His perfect, holy, Son to take on human form, live a perfect life on this earth, and die in our place. Jesus took on Himself the penalty for our sin and paid it, that we could have His righteousness and a restored relationship with God. That is God’s inexpressible gift.

James 1:17 tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God’s gift of Jesus our Savior never loses its importance in our lives. It never becomes old or forgotten, and no new gift can ever take its place. We are loved by God, and nothing is better than that.

Big Bulky Monitor

The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #5: Big Bulky Monitor
Pat Bedell

When I was six years old, I really started to grasp the concept of gifts. My birthday and Christmas day were days that I would look forward to for the sole reason that I would receive gifts. I had a knack for hinting to my parents and grandparents what I wanted. I certainly did not receive everything that I wanted, but usually, they would splurge to buy me one of the bigger gifts that I asked for, and I was happy with that.

It was the Christmas season of 1993, I was at my grandparents’ house, and they had just bought a computer. Mind you, this was twenty-five years ago, and they had large CPUs and the big bulky monitors. They were also quite expensive. I learned how to use it quite quickly, and I just had to have one. My parents looked at me and chuckled a bit and said “yeah right.” I was mildly discouraged, but I knew that I was asking for a lot.   

Tears of joy flowed hard that Christmas morning when I thought that I received the best gift that I could ever have gotten. I screamed, I cried, I ran around, and I tripped over the wrapping paper, before falling into my parents’ arms with extreme gratitude.

Fast forward ten years when I find myself in a campus Church being convicted of giving my life to Christ. I heard the Gospel, I believed it with all my heart, but I thought there was a catch. Jesus was rebuked, beaten, and crucified, but for what? He gave His life up for me. He knew me before I was even in existence and died to forgive me of the sins that I would commit two thousand years later. What did He want me to do in order to be part of God’s kingdom? James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God will always be perfect in His ways, and He will never deter or change.

He gave all of humanity unequivocally the greatest gift of all. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” All He asks us to do is to accept Him, love others, share the Good News of Jesus, and you will be saved. 

When the pastor told me how to accept Jesus and what is required to give my life to Him, I was nervous and excited. I finally grasped the concept of what Jesus did for me and what His perfect gift was to me. I could not handle my emotions any longer. It was just like when I was ten years old; I wept of joy and gratefulness for such an amazing gift that could never be reciprocated. I told everyone about my perfect gift back then, and I find even more joy in telling people about the perfect gift of Jesus. Who in your life needs to hear about the perfect gift that you received when you accepted Jesus? Seek Him to find the strength and courage to be bold and share the Gospel to those that desperately need it!

The Gift Giver

The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #4: The Gift Giver
Caleb Combs | Gathering Pastor

Are you a good gift giver? I view myself as a good gift giver. For me, the key to being a good gift giver is by listening and writing down things so that I will remember when the time comes to choose a gift. I have tried to do this over the years when buying gifts for my wife, Sierra.  However, I can tell you of a time I bought her a “do not buy” gift. You see, no one warned me about the “do not buy” list. It is like buying your wife a nice new vacuum for her birthday or a new set of pots and pans for Christmas. Take it from me guys, do not do it. Do not get sucked into their trick, even if they read this devotion and say they want it. Trust me, do not do it. 

My wife and I started dating in college. I was a sophomore, and she was a freshman at Grace Bible College. It was love at first sight (at least for me). It took me a while to win her over. Gifts in relationships are an important thing, and when you find yourself in a new relationship, there is a lot of pressure, especially on a dumb college guy who has no idea what to buy his girlfriend. Valentine’s Day was coming up, and the pressure began to mount. I had no idea what to buy her. While thinking and agonizing over what to get her, I remembered a conversation we once had. She mentioned that she would like to start working out. Side note: My wife does not work out. She gets in these phases where she gets inspired to work out and says she is going to start but in all our years together, she never actually has. To make things totally unfair, she eats whatever she wants and yet has stayed the same size since high school, eliminating much of the motivation. It must be nice! She got this crazy idea that she was going to become a fitness guru and so I got my own crazy idea. Now that I have been married for over 13 years, I have realized that work out things are on her “Do not buy” list. However, I had no idea of this at the time. So, I decided I would go buy her an exercise outfit for Valentine’s Day. I went to a sporting goods store and spent around $125 on a sweet Nike workout outfit. I got her the matching pants and top and a jacket to go over it, so she would at least look the part even though she had no idea what she was doing (I love you, babe! I probably should not have said that). The day came, and I wrapped the present and gave it to her. I knew instantly that I had made a mistake. The look on her face was a look of horror, followed by the question that no man ever wants to be asked, “You think that I need to work out?” Do not, I repeat, do not answer that question. I am a Combs, and I can talk all day, but that moment left me speechless. Needless to say, I will never get sucked into buying her something on the “do not buy” list again. My gift was far from great, and though it was thought out and prepared, it was a total fail.

 James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse talks about all of the gifts and blessings God gives us. Man, we are so blessed! We are getting ready to celebrate the greatest gift ever given (Jesus Christ) by giving gifts to our loved ones. I know we can get caught up in the giving of these gifts and whether they are great gifts or not so great gifts, but let us never forgot the perfect gift that was given to the world in a small town and in little barn, born to Mary and Joseph. There is no way they could even comprehend the magnitude of how incredibly perfect this gift was. They were blessed by the gift of their first son, but the world was blessed with the Savior of the world. What an incredible gift!

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