REASSURING RHYTHMS
 
When do we offer reassuring words? Whenever there is fear, perplexity or pain. Our words rebuild the vital bridge connecting pain to hope, to peace, to continuity.
 
“Don’t worry, little one,” we soothe. “Daddy’s going to be right here until you go to sleep.”
 
“You’ll be just fine,” we tell the anxious student on the night before the test. “You’ve studied hard: you know this stuff.”
 
“You’re not alone,” we whisper to a saddened soul who cannot see beyond the terrible calamity of now.
 
In these, we faintly echo all the Father’s reassurances. He both anticipates our fear and moves to heal it with deep promises of connectedness and peace. In one short psalm, we hear the same phrase 26 amazing times: “His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). The rhythm of His reassurance rolls through history, time, and all our fears until the message of sustaining grace becomes embedded in our souls: “His steadfast love endures forever.”
 
The arms that hold us in our grief are here: “His steadfast love endures forever.” When we are lonely, we recall: “His steadfast love endures forever.” When conflicts, large and small, besiege our lives, and we can hardly summon hope—“His steadfast love endures forever.”
 
Grace is the story of God’s endless and unbroken love. At every turn; in every hurt; when joy arrives; when hope renews—“His steadfast love endures forever.”
 
So stay in grace. -Bill Knott
RECLAIMING OUR IDENTITY
 
“Who do you think you are?” the bully thundered, and we shrank back into some smaller self that could more easily escape or hide.
 
“Who do you think you are?” the college entrance essay asked, and we explained we were the product of suburban schools, or immigrants, or persons trying on new cultures. “I am a daughter; an orphan; a member of a racially exploited group.”
 
“Who do you think you are?” the counselor gently queried us, and we described our brokenness, our loss of self, our pain, to someone whom we paid to listen to our stories.
 
“Who do you think you are?” the Father asks. And how He smiles when we respond with joy and laughter shining in our eyes—“I am the prodigal come home. I am a son, a daughter of Your love. I am the one You never take your eyes off—even when I played the rogue, or spent Your wealth, or claimed I never knew You.”
 
“I am the child You pledge to always love. And even when I get it wrong, I feel Your grace, Your kindness, Your forgiveness.”
 
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:8-9).
 
You cannot earn the Father’s love. You cannot lose the Father’s love.
 
So stay in grace. -Bill Knott
LOVE THAT WON’T LET GO
 
When dreams of bright success have stumbled on the hard edge of reality . . . When every scheme for fame or followers has left the needle where it was . . . When all the crowd who live for now have gone on dancing down the boulevard—just then we learn the value of the love that won’t let go.
 
It’s father in the driveway saying softly as we pack, “You can come home again.” A colleague asks us on the elevator ride, “Are you OK? When would you like to talk?” A high school friend calls from a time zone far away to say, “I pray for you each day. What do you need just now?”
 
We learn the ceaseless grace of God from people still receiving grace. Their patience—their persistence—through the twists of all our wandering give substance to the truth we read in Scripture: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end” (Lam 3:22). From heart to heart and hand to hand, we practice love that rescues us.
 
And one day soon, we will be saying to some other soul—“What do you need just now?” “When would you like to talk?” “You can come home again.”
 
The grace we share is grace we’ve learned. The kindness never stops with us.
 
So stay in grace. -Bill Knott
 
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At every rounding of the year, we realize how much we need renewal.
On New Year’s Eve, we want to slam the door on the departing year, or banish memories of 2020’s pain and grief. But there are—and must be—great ties between the old year and the new.

We live in the same bodies: we inhabit the same homes. We remain related to the same family: we work at the same jobs. We worship with the same believers: we study the same Word.

It’s renewal, then, and not a clean break from the past, that offers us our greatest hope in 2021. How can our bodies be renewed? Will this year be the one when we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds? (Rom 12:2). How does a weary marriage find new sources of resilience and of laughter? Can dry and broken friendships be restored? We crave the ageless source of all renewal—the grace and mercy of our Lord revealed in the pages of His Word.

Yes, grace renews what grace began.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Cor 4:16-17).

So here’s to growing deeper, stronger, wiser, kinder in 2021. 
Stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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This painful year has made us clear on what we want for Christmas. Though Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are sure we want a gleaming ride with giant ribbons on the roof, we have no miles we want to drive. The ads all tease us with dark fantasies on Amazon or Netflix, but we still have our darkness to get through. The tech toys that we bought for sport have only one compelling use this year.

We want each other more than gifts. We want the long and lingering embrace of two-year olds who won’t let go; the bear hug from a distant friend; the real gatherings of real folk around a tree, a table, or a fire. We want the laughter never muted, carols sung by families on nights no longer silent. We want the deep security we find in holding, playing, eating with the ones we love in places we call home.

So Christ came down because He couldn’t bear the breach of space; the distance numbered in light-years; the loving words half-understood. He came to us in helplessness so we might know He needed love—our love, the warmth for which He fashioned us. He laid aside His rulership so that a two-year old could grip Him tight; a mother’s tears could turn to joy, and bitter, broken men could heal. He came to make the lepers dance; to be the face the blind first saw; to hear the deaf sing harmony.

His joy is us: we are the only gift He wants.

Accept the grip of His embrace. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

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Electric icicles are draped from eaves that never have seen snow. Inflatables, some 10 feet tall, loom high above synthetic reindeer, grazing on front lawns. Mythical figures never known in Bethlehem crowd close to dash away whatever pain may linger in the story. Back-lit Nativity scenes help us believe that everything that night was just as festive, clean, and comfortable as all the stuff by which we annually remember it. But it was painful to be Joseph—much harder still to be Mary—when none were welcoming and no inn had a room. The irony was palpable and blunt: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him,” the Gospel says (Jn 1:11). Royal lineage did not protect Him. Creatorship gave Him no sweet advantages. The wealthy and the powerful were threatened, not elated, by His birth. All that the principalities and powers could do was summoned to make His entry random, painful, and forgettable. But heaven had—and heaven has—a beautiful and gracious plan. For every time we sing a carol, or read the story, or tell a child, we push the darkness back a bit. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (Jn 8:12). The grace He gives, the life He beckons us to live, “is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Prov 4:18). Keep singing now: the light will grow. Decide to tell the story. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

The story brims with contrasts and disparities, and yet we tell it year by year. We meet an emperor, and then, at last, a baby. We hear of wealth, taxation, and deep poverty.  We marvel at the gap between an iron power and abject, fragile weakness. The One who roamed the far-flung galaxies created by His word lies helpless in a trough from which farm animals are fed. Brilliant, iridescent angels terrify poor shepherds, who abandon pregnant ewes to gather ‘round the only Lamb who could deliver them. Unlearned and voiceless laborers at the bottom of the ladder are tasked with sharing the first good news the world had heard in centuries. And for all this, the story is ever new and never finished.  We know this story—we tell this story—because it is, somehow, the tale of our lives.  We know the clash of expectations and realities; of hopes held high and lives lived low; of failures, weakness, joy and pain. And so this birth is like every other birth, and like none that ever has occurred. “What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (Jn 1:4). Grace came to live with us—to change the ending of our stories. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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The soloist soars high above the massive, harmonizing choir: “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.”  But on that night,  no soul on earth expected anything but normal. We drape the story of His birth with yards of gauze and billowy bright angels.  We estimate a gentleness His weary parents never knew. We decorate the landscape of our Christmas with smiling sheep and camels trudging from the East.  And we forget how hard it is to live beside—among—farm animals in fields or in stables. We ring a halo ‘round a birth that felt—that hurt—like any other birth, for there was nothing to relieve His mother’s pain except, perhaps, the wise words of a midwife and the prayers of worried Joseph. Truth is, the grace of God, the Word made Flesh, took pains to enter all our commonness, our struggle and our dirt, so all who live below the line would see Him as their Saviour, too. Grace never was afraid of dirt—not then, not now, not ever—whether in a musty stable or in a haggard heart.  Our pain, our sin, our guilt, our shame—these are the things He gladly wore as surely as those swaddling clothes.  He was, He is, Immanuel—God with us; God one of us; God for us. So come, let us adore Him. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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“If you would tell me, tell me true,” a wise old man once said. “There isn’t time enough for lies.” And when we’ve polished all our trophies, and sung again our victory songs, we come at last to stories too painful to be false. Each honest story unwraps our wounds, our hurts—as well as those we’ve given. We grieve the loved ones whom we’ve lost—a spouse; a friend; a much-loved child—though some of them still live and breathe. We mourn the loss of innocence; we’ve soaked up toxic sums of greed. We laugh at violence and war; we cheer for “heroes” who display our poorest human qualities. We feel the sadness for what’s never fixed or mended or repaired. And so it’s not an accident that we know more of Jesus as a healer than any other role. He stepped into the broken story of our world with grace that made the lepers dance and unlocked tongues that never spoke. He gave the parents back lost children; He cast out evil spirits and refashioned sin-sick attitudes. He told us of a Father who kindly waits for us to finish playing prodigal. And when He died to heal us of our greatest hurt, He took our pain and made it His. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the punishment that made us whole, and by His bruises we are healed” (Isa 53:5-6). The good news is that grace still heals. It closes wounds; it soothes our scars. And someday soon, it leads us home. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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“She was very gracious in accepting my apology,” we say with heartfelt admiration. “He gave a very gracious speech in light of the circumstances,” we add, aware he could have done differently. Our common references to grace reveal we most always link it to “something that didn’t have to be done that way,” or someone who made a noble choice to rise above the normal human lust for power, wealth, or influence. Grace is always a choice, even in difficult, vexing moments. And there we find a useful definition of God’s gracious acts toward us: they are always somethings He was never obligated to do. It was it is—a choice, a principled, character-driven, even painful decision to offer us His love and His forgiveness. Even when we spat on His Son, and beat Him badly, and laughed at His extremity, and mocked Him as He died. If God were not gracious, all who have ever lived would be doomed. “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But grace is real; forgiveness happens, and broken lives are made brand-new. In every hour—on every day—the Father offers the mercy we will neither merit nor deserve. And all for the deep satisfaction He receives of seeing us embraced and welcomed into the kingdom of His Son. So stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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We crouch behind our walls and fences, readying ourselves for what we’ve learned to fear. We lock all doors, secure the bars. We mentally rehearse our steps, our routes. We twitch at unfamiliar sounds, lie wide awake when branches scrape the roof, and wait for light and morning. Whoever is not us is “other”—a nameless, faceless “stranger” we assume means only harm. “They” are the people unlike us—of different race, perhaps; or language, habits, customs, faiths. We crave the time machine that takes us back to comfort as we knew it. But grace is so remarkably persistent that even locks and fears cannot deter how it reshapes our thinking. When you discover—at long last—that you were “other” to the Lord—that you were threatening to His kingdom, a rebel to His law and rule, and damaging the world with your hostility and hate. And still He loved—still welcomed you into His house, and gave you keys to all the property. He trusted you before you knew you could be trusted; offered you forgiveness—yes—for sins not yet repented of. We were embraced before we even tried to love. “God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:18). So grace remakes our way of seeing those we used to fear—takes down our walls brick after brick—until we learn that difference is a source of joy, that “other” can be “brother,” “sister” “neighbor,” “friend.” The great unlearning has begun. Now stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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If there’s a mountain anywhere to climb, we scale it. If there’s a chasm some say can’t be spanned, we find a way to bridge it. When we demand a new frontier, we harness all the ingenuity we have to launch deep probes of planets, moons and suns. But there’s one goal we’ll never rise to conquer—how to reconcile a sinner to the Father. Nothing in our repertoire responds to this persistent challenge. Effort will not make it happen; wisdom won’t achieve the goal. Diligence and ritual won’t bring the heavens closer. Only from the heart of God could answers come that heal the world, atone for our disaster and disgrace, and offer us a future far beyond the galaxy. Only He who came from God to walk with us, and feel our pain, and mend our brokenness can do the hardest thing that ever was. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Grace came down, and grace abides. And only grace will lead us home. Rejoice in love’s magnificent reality. And stay in grace. -Bill Knott

 

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