Christian apologist and best-selling author Lee Strobel tells moving stories that paint a powerful picture of how God's grace impacts every aspect of our lives and gives us hope. (Part 2 of 2)
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Pastor Lee Strobel: What we have to do is, remind ourselves, it is by the grace of God that we are saved and that when we [are] not just saved, but God is gonna continue to shower that grace on us and it goes back to that quote from Phil Yancey. "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less." He loves you. That is what His grace is about and He will offer that grace as a free gift to you. All you have to do is receive it in repentance and faith and when you do that, He will fill your soul with His love.
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John: That's Lee Strobel and he was our guest on the last "Focus on the Family" broadcast. He's back with us today. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, Lee had so many good stories to encourage each and every one of us. If you're feeling hopeless, unloved, can't find grace, stick with us today, 'cause I think you're gonna hear how you do find it and I am thrilled. If you didn't hear last time, you gotta download it or get the CD. Just call us and we'll find some way to get it to you. I thought one of the stories that we ended with last time, Comrade Duch, who was in the killing fields in Cambodia, was one of the leaders, was responsible for 17,000 deaths, but somehow God in only the way God could, reached down through a person whose cousin was killed in that camp and he was able to lead him to the Lord and still is a friend of his today, while he serves a life sentence in the prisons of Cambodia. That's powerful stuff.
You know, one of the things I thought of, John, when we were talking with Lee last time, there's self-inflicted wounds and we're gonna talk about some of those today—adultery and drug addiction and those other things that we lend a helping hand to—and then there are the things that just happen to us like that. We can't control 'em and God's grace is in all of it. For the person who has taken the wrong path, God's grace is there for you. For the person who was led down the wrong path, God's grace is there for you, too. And it is wonderful to have you back, Lee.
Lee Strobel: Thank you. Always great to be with you guys.
Jim: You know, we can talk about your background. I'm always thrilled to talk with you. You bring such energy, such hope. People can hear it and that is the hope of somebody who walks with a limp. And what I mean by that, you came out of atheism, a terrible relationship with your earthly father, but again, God's grace showed up for you.
Jim: And you found Him through your wife—
Jim: --coming to Christ and it's a beautiful story, it's the way it should be. And you weren't intimidated. You set out as a Yale law school graduate, to prove God's through Jesus and you did, The Case for Christ, New York Times best-seller. And today we're talking about The Case for Grace, which I love, the New Testament. Let me frame our discussion—
Jim: --with a Scripture you reference on page 207, where you listed the Bible verses that support grace.
Jim: I mean, that must be fun to list those.
Lee: It was, yeah.
Jim: And then John 1:17, which I think is a beautiful articulation. It says there, "For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
Jim: And that really sums it up, Lee.
Lee: It does.
Jim: When we try to live out of the law of the Old Testament in this day, I'm often scratchin' my head goin', "Why?"
Jim: Jesus has come. We're under the new covenant.
Jim: The grace of God is here. That's the Good News.
Lee: It is and you're right to say, it's grace and truth. Both are important and God, through Jesus Christ, Jesus embodied both grace and truth. I remember once I had a conversation with one of the great pastors of all time, John Stott from England. And he said, "Love without truth is too soft. Truth without love is too hard." You know, we have to have this balance of love and truth, of grace and truth. And Jesus modeled that for us. He was full of truth. There's no question what He stood for, but He was gracious.
And He, you know, in telling the story of the Prodigal Son that we've all heard, about this guy that takes his inheritance early and goes to a distant country and blows it all in wine, women and song. And a famine comes and he's feeding the pigs and he hopes against hope, maybe if I go home, my dad will at least treat me like a servant, at least make me like a hired hand. I mean, that would be great if he would maybe, maybe, maybe do that.
And yet, he goes back and his father embraces him as his son. And you know, sometimes we see things in terms of people being hired hands, you know. We as parents, sometimes condition our love on how good our kids are and it's you know, it's the law. It's, you know, if you adhere to these rules, then I will love you. That's kinds of the implicit message we send, as opposed to, "You're valuable; you're loved by God. You're made in the image of God. I love you regardless of what happens. Now let me help you live a life to avoid these dead ends, to avoid these bad paths."
Because God has given us the rules of life, so to speak, not out of a sense of wanting to spoil our fun, but because He loves us. He made us and He understand, if you follow this path, then you'll find what we talked about last time, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, these things that the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will manifest more in your life. This is the best way to live, because this is what comes from our Designer Himself.
Jim: Ah, Lee, I mean, it's so well-said. I get excited about that. Talk about though, the person who is in the Christian faith. They've embraced Christ. Maybe because of temperament, maybe because of who they are, I tend to see the scientific person.
Jim: You're coming out of a journalistic perspective—
Jim: --very similar, where facts are important. And I think one of the things that I've observed is for that temperament, that mind-set, it's very hard to grasp grace, because they like the equation of A plus B equals C.
Jim: If I behave this way, God'll love me and God'll bless me.
Jim: That's not the formula, is it?
Jim: Grace goes beyond all that. It doesn't compute to how you behave. We should behave the right way because we love God—
Jim: --not out of duty. That's the Old Testament.
Lee: It's duty and there's a sense of pride there, too. You know, a sense of pride that, you know, I'm gonna really be good and I'm gonna show God that I am worthy of receiving His love and grace.
Jim: Let me follow up on that—
Jim: --because one of the things that often happens with someone who accepts Christ and you talked about that last time with the Cambodian leader, when he was found out to have killed thousands of people. It sounded like he began to try to work for the grace that he had been given. And that's a natural thing for a human being to do. I think any of us who have done things that we're ashamed of and then we come into relationship with Christ, it's embarrassing.
Jim: We want to say, "Okay, Lord, now let me be the super—
Jim: --Let me be the biggest volunteer in church. I'm gonna earn what You've given me.
Lee: Right, boy—
Jim: That's not a good move—
Lee: --that is—
Jim: --is it?
Lee: --no, I'm tellin' you, Jim, that is a so true and I tell you a story in my own life. After I came to faith in Christ and so grateful for the grace He'd given me, I left my journalism career and took a 60 percent pay cut and went on the staff of Willow Creek Church.
And so, one day, after I was on the staff of the church for many months, I get a phone call from the pastor, Bill Hybels. And I said, "Yeah," and he said, "I've heard a nasty rumor about you." I'm thinkin', this ain't good. (Laughter) You know, well, my mind's goin', "What!? What have I [done]? I haven't done anything." (Laughter)
I said, "Well, what?" And he said, "Well, I've heard that you're working like 50, 60, 70 hours a week, that you're working seven days a week, that you're working evenings at Cherry [Creek]." Oh, he said, "Yeah, is that true?" And part of me wanted to say, "Well, you bet it's true. I'm the hardest-working guy on the stuff. I'm the guy that gets stuff done. I'm the guy that's workin' more than anybody else and that's what I wanted to say.
And then he said to me, so I said, "Well, yeah, it's true." And he said, "Well, you know what? You keep that up; I'm gonna fire you."
Jim: (Laughing) You weren't expecting to hear that.
Lee: I wasn't expecting that. He threatened to fire me because he said, "I'm not gonna be a party to your self-destruction." And what he discerned, which was accurate, which was and so true as you say, Jim, after people come to faith and they're so grateful for the grace of God, but then they want to, on the back end, they want to prove that God was right to have given 'em grace. I'm gonna show 'em. I'm gonna be the best. I'm gonna be the super Christian. And we get on this treadmill of performance and it is deadly and it will wear you out and it will deplete your soul.
What we have to do is, remind ourselves, it is by the grace of God that we are saved and not just saved, but God is gonna continue to shower that grace on us and it goes back to that quote from Phil Yancey. "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less." He loves you. That is what His grace is about and He will offer that grace as a free gift to you. All you have to do is receive it in repentance and faith and when you do that, He will fill your soul with His love.
Jim: Lee, it again, it sounds almost too good to be true, but let's use an illustration. In your book, The Case for Grace, you talked about a story where a man committed adultery.
Jim: This isn't unique in this age.
Jim: Talk about his story and I'm sure there are many people, both in the church and outside the church that have done things in that space—
Jim: --that are unhealthy and very bad decisions—
Jim: --that cause tremendous pain—
Jim: --and ripple effect.
Jim: But talk about God's grace in that.
Jim: Because some people would say—
Jim: --"How could God forgive that?"
Jim: I mean …
Lee: Especially when He was a pastor. He was my friend for 20 years. I mean, this guy was the last person I would ever imagine would commit adultery and yet, in moments of weakness, he committed adultery, cheated on his wife and you know, he was devastated by it. She, of course, was devastated by it. She found out about it. He confessed it all to her. They went into counseling together, but they were facing several issues.
No. 1, even though as a Christian, she forgave him, would the marriage be saved, you know? That's another issue. Is trust broken forever? So, she had to work through that. He had to work through not only how do I put my marriage back together as best I can, but how do I receive not just God's forgiveness, 'cause God will forgive me; I know that. But how do I forgive myself?
You know, sometimes we commit a sin. We do something, like adultery or you know, whatever it is and we feel irredeemable on the inside. We can't forgive ourselves and so, he talks about how he had to not only access the forgiveness of God at this grievous sin he committed, and yet, God [is] still willing to forgive him.
He confessed it. He repented and then to go through the process of saying, "Well, if God has forgiven me, why can't I forgive myself?" I mean, and working through that and then, as a couple working through forgiveness and grace and how their marriage did come back together and now Brad and Heidi Mitchell have a marriage ministry.
Jim: Well, and the beautiful part of that story is, I think it illustrates God's heart at the deepest level, because He does allow divorce in that situation—
Jim: --of betrayal.
Lee: That's right.
Jim: Yet, it's pretty clear in Scripture that He prefers a couple be able to stay together--
Jim: --that He didn't want anybody to divorce and—
Lee: That's right.
Jim: --that's a beautiful illustration of that.
Jim: Let me ask you this, Lee. So often when we talk about grace and in fact, you write a book about it shows some courage, 'cause you have people I'm sure that will say, that's cheap grace.
Jim: I've kinda come to the conclusion when you use that label on the grace of God, you better be careful.
Jim: Even for that pastor who has sinned, he's not gonna walk perfectly and guess what? Neither are you.
Lee: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: I mean, that's the reality of this life. We live in a fallen world. We have a fallen nature. We're going to do things, hopefully not terrible things, but we're gonna do things that disappoint the Lord.
Jim: Talk about that statement of "cheap grace" and how we need to watch our tongue--
Jim: --in that regard, because Jesus hanging on the cross for each one of us is not cheap.
Lee: Exactly, yeah, I mean, the cost of grace, that is the death of the Son of God on an instrument of torture; He is, you know, the biggest expense that could ever be extended to purchase grace. And yet, it's freely offered to us, that out of God's love, you know, the cost of it is great to Him, the cost of His Son and yet, He offers it freely as a gift to us.
But we have to understand, yes, it's free to us, but there's a dimension to it. You know, I think part of "cheap grace" is, as Bonhoeffer said, "Cheap grace is grace without the cross." It's grace without repentance. It's grace without discipleship. It's, oh, yeah, I'm gonna invite Jesus in my heart and it's okay; well, what does that mean? And then you go off merrily doing whatever you want to do. That's not grace.
I mean, we have to understand that, you know, that we are sinners, that we have violated, you know, what God has told us to do and which separated us from Him and we have to own that. We have to confess that. We have to acknowledge that. We have to repent of that and turn from that. That is part of this process of receiving grace.
It is confessing our sin. It is receiving forgiveness through Christ. It is allowing the Holy Spirit to take up residence in us and to repent, to turn and to walk a new path with the help of God. And yes, we're gonna stumble and yes, we're gonna make mistakes and go off on, you know, the wrong path every once in a while, but the overall arc of our life oughta be increasingly to follow and honor God
John: And Jim, here at Focus on the Family, we have a little document online that people can access if they'd like to learn more about what Lee is talking about. It's called "Coming Home." Tens of thousands worldwide have used that. They've read it and they've come to that knowledge that they're sinners, Lee, as you're talking about and they've accepted God's grace. We'd encourage you to look for that and also, Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Grace. We have both of those at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: You also talk about a homeless man, Cody Huff.
Jim: I really liked that story and I don't want to steal the thunder of it. Share it with us.
Lee: Yeah, you know, Cody was a man who was a meth addict. He was a heroin addict. He was a felon, convicted counterfeiter. I mean, this guy wa[s] a drug dealer and he finds himself living in Las Vegas. He hadn't taken a bath in months, beard scraggly. He was crawling around in dumpsters looking for uneaten bits of pizza crust to stay alive.
And he told me, "Lee, if I had a gun, I would've put it in my mouth. I would've pulled the trigger." Oh, he was as hopeless of a human being as I have ever seen. And so, one day he smelled so bad. He lived in a field with these other homeless people. Nobody wanted to get near him. Nobody wanted to sleep near him. They said, "Cody, you stink. Cody, you need a bath."
You know, and so, they heard about a church pastored by Judd Wilhite, who you've had on your show, that offered free showers to the homeless. So, Cody and his friend hike all the way across town. They come into this church, Central Christian Church and they're waiting for a shower and they're eating some donuts and drinking some coffee that was provided, waiting. They have a number in the line.
And this woman walks in named Michelle and Michelle was a Christian volunteer at this homeless shelter. And she looked around the room and she saw Cody and she walks over to Cody. And she said to him, "Sir, you look like you need a hug." And Cody said, "Well, ma'am, you don't want to hug me. I stink. I haven't had a shower in months. I smell." And she said, "No, you look like you need a hug. And he's thinkin', you know, no, no.
And she wraps her arms around him and hugs him and then looks him in the eye and says, "Do you know that Jesus loves you?" And his thought was, "Jesus can't love me; I'm a felon. Jesus can't love me; I'm homeless. Jesus can't love me' I'm a drug addict. Jesus can't love me." And she looked at him and she said, "Jesus loves you."
And Jim, the most amazing thing, God used that simple expression of grace to light something in the heart of Cody Huff. And a light went on and he said to her, "Is this what the love of God is, this kind of acceptance, this kind of affirmation, this kind of I don't deserve this, I didn't earn this? I deserve nothing like this.
And you know, she took him to church. Over time he gets cleaned up. He gets out of drugs. He becomes in love with the Bible. He's preaching to the other homeless people. Through the church he gets a job, his first legitimate job. He gets his own place to live. He becomes an ordained Baptist minister and he's become my friend. And sometimes we, like once we did an outreach event in the park where he used to sleep as a homeless person. And we gathered all the homeless around and he said, "You know, I used to be like you, sleepin' in the dirt and then there was this girl and there she is in the back." And Michelle was there. "She gave me a hug and she told me Jesus loves me and it changed my life. And I want you to know something. Jesus loves you, too and He will change your life."
And I'll tell you the kicker of the story, when Cody was homeless, he would try to earn a few dollars for drugs by washin' people's windshields. And one day a Mustang came in and it was this woman and he said, "Can I wash your windshield?" And she said, "Well, I just had my car detailed. I don't need that, but are you hungry?" And he said, "Oh, I'm starvin' to death." And she said, "Well, here, let me give you some gift certificates." And she gave him some gift certificates for a fast food restaurant.
And so, Cody goes to the fast food restaurant and he eats every dime of that gift certificate and he's so grateful. Well, years later, after he comes to faith in Christ and he becomes a you know, he's sober and he's off of drugs and he's volunteering now as part of the homeless ministry and he sees this woman and he recognizes her.
And he said, "Do you remember me? I was the homeless guy who you gave the gift certificates to when I was starving?" And she said, "Oh, you know, I give out so many of those. I'm sorry; I don't remember you." And he said, "Well, I just want you to know, I found Jesus and He's changed my life." And she said, "Oh, that's great."
And they got to know each other and now they're husband and wife. (Laughter) And you know, Heather and Cody are so cute together, holdin' hands and when we did the outreach event in the park, she's cookin' chicken to feed the homeless and he's preaching the Gospel to them and befriending them. And it's just a great story of God's hope, that this life that had been so wasted and so consumed by drugs and hopelessness, that God redeems him, changes him, is now using him in remarkable ways for Him.
Jim: That is a great story, Lee and you know, it is so amazing to see God's full grace.
Jim: I mean, that's amazing.
Lee: Yeah, to go from that point (Laughter), it reminds me of that verse in 2 Corinthians that says, you know, when we come to faith, the old is gone; the new has come. And we're changed. We're transformed and you know, to see Cody now and I just recently brought him out to my church and I brought Heather with [him], and I brought 'em up in front of the congregation and we talked about grace and we talked about that simple expression of grace.
Some of us as Christians say, "Well, what can I do? How can I show the grace of God to someone? If I see a homeless person or if I have a family member who's far from God or what can I do? And you know, Cody would say, just keep your compassion radar going and look for simple ways to express grace. You know, it was a hug, a simple hug that this woman gave to this homeless man that changed his life.
Jim: But as you told that story, what really caught my attention is, that was God in her flesh.
Lee: It was.
Jim: I mean, that was the Lord expressing his love for [him].
Lee: He said later, it was like Jesus was there. I felt like it was Jesus hugging me, because it was something that was so unexpected and so undeserved. I mean, he was full of shame. He was full of remorse about his life. He didn't know how to get out of this spiral that he as in. And yet, she gently and compassionately reaches out, gives him the hug and he said, it was the simplicity of that gesture. That's what Jesus would've done.
And I asked Michelle, I said to her, I said, "Why did you hug him?" And you know, she looked at me like, that's the stupidest question anybody's ever asked me. She didn't say that, but it was like the look on her face was, what do you mean, why did I hug him? That's what Jesus would do. Of course, that's what Jesus would do.
Jim: But there's many may not have 'cause it was perhaps uncomfortable. Lee, most people would say to me, "Stop; that was a great story. That's where to end." But you know, I'm thinking of the parents who have a prodigal son—
Jim: --but he's still or she's still on that path.
Jim: They haven't seen Cody Huff's response. They haven't seen the embrace of God and then the right reaction. It's more addiction.
Jim: I know it's not wise to end maybe on a downer, but I want you to speak hope and grace into—
Jim: --those people's lives—
Jim: --where Cinderella stories have not shown up yet—
Jim: --and may still—
Jim: --but maybe their son or daughter doesn't survive their drug addiction or whatever. Speak to the heart of the broken.
Lee: You know, Jim, I get so often parents coming to me and grandparents coming to me these days and saying, "My heart is broken. My child went off to college and now he or she says they're an atheist. They've walked away from God. They don't believe anymore and they look at me with the sense or they've gotten tangled with drugs and they're walked away from the Lord [sic]. We brought 'em up in the church. We prayed. You know, we even homeschooled them or whatever it was and their hearts are broken.
And I tell 'em a couple of things. I say, you know, when my wife was a new Christian and she met a woman at church and told her about me and said, "I don't have any hope for my husband. He is the hard-hearted, hard-headed legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. He will never bend his knee to Jesus."
And that woman put her arm around Leslie's shoulder and she gave her a verse from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36:26 that says, "Moreover I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
And so, my wife in those years that I was still an atheist, prayed that verse for me every day and you know, I tell parents, first of all, don't panic when your kids tell you they walked away. Don't panic. It's become socially fashionable these days, culturally a wonderful thing to say you're an atheist. It's become the popular thing to do.
Don't panic; pray for your children. Live out your faith as authentically as you can in front of them. Look for those simple gestures of grace that you can do in their lives, like the woman that hugged Cody, the simple things that you do that can express the love of God to them and the fact that they are your child. They are your son. They are your daughter "irregardless," that you will never abandon them, that you're never gonna walk away from them.
You love them, a little bit with the grace of God. God, you know, never gives up on us and so, so I say, you know, pray for them. Don't give up on them. Look for those opportunities to express simple gestures of grace and think about and that's one of the reasons I wrote the book, The Case for Grace, that we need to hear stories sometimes of the people in the world who the world looks at and says, "They're beyond hope. They're beyond redemption. They've gone too far. They've taken a step, one step beyond hope."
And I want to say, no, no, no. There is always hope in this world and that's why I wrote the book. I'm hoping that people will capture that and say, you know what? It breaks my heart where my kids are at, but I'm not gonna give up on them. I'm gonna keep praying. I'm gonna be lookin' for ways to reach out in grace.
And you know what? There'll probably be a volume two with Case for Grace with the story of your child, you know, the one you almost gave up on. I think of when Leslie threw her arms around me when I told her that I had just prayed to receive Christ and tears in her eyes and she looked at me and she said, "I almost gave up on you 1,000 times." You know, but she never did.
And sometimes we want to give up. We feel like we've lost hope and I want to say, don't give up. Don't give up. Keep praying. Keep looking for opportunities to share the message of hope through a simple gesture of grace and you know what? God is still in the life-transformation business. He still transforms lives and you know, that's the great hope.
Jim: Lee Strobel, author of the book, The Case for Grace, I mean that is a good place to end, that there is always hope and always God's grace extended to each one of us. Thanks for bein' with us.
Lee: Oh, my joy. Thank you.
John: It's been so good to hear over the past couple of days about God's grace and how that touches and impacts the lives of every one of us. And Lee's book is The Case for Grace. It's full of inspirational stories and you've heard so many of them these past couple of days. You'll also hear more about his personal quest of faith and his search for grace. And if you're looking for hope and encouragement, I think you'll want to get a copy and of course, we have that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. You can also call and we'll tell you more, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And we'd like to say thank you when you support the work of Focus on the Family with a generous gift today of any amount. We'll send a copy of The Case for Grace to you, trusting that you'll benefit from the richness of the content and that you'll pass it on to somebody who needs to understand more about who God is. And you can donate at the website or when you call.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Lee StrobelView Bio
A former atheist, Lee Strobel is now a well-known apologist for the Christian faith. He is also a popular public speaker and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of more than 20 books including The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. Educated at the University of Missouri and Yale Law School, Lee worked as a professional journalist for several newspapers including The Chicago Tribune. He now serves as Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. Lee's book The Case for Christ, recounting his investigative journey from atheism to faith, has been made into a motion picture opening in theaters nationwide on April 7, 2017. He and his wife, Leslie, have two grown children. Learn more about Lee by visiting his website, www.leestrobel.com.