Pastor's Blog - Norm Byers
There are free lunches

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Several years ago, my wife, Brenda, and I decided to accept an offer to hear a “brief presentation” in exchange for a “free hotel stay.” The kids were little and we thought that a free stay in a hotel with a pool would be a fun family activity. And since we had more time than money, it was in the right price range!

The presentation started with a hyped talk and what one might call an obnoxious and long video about the product. Following the address of the large group, we were all huddled into individual meetings with a sales associate, and there endured a lengthy spiel. It was a highly pressured situation where I finally had to say, “No offense to you whatsoever, but we will never buy this product. The only reason we are here is for the free hotel stay.”

Finally, when the two-hour or so “time investment” had ended, we said to each other in the car driving away, “Well, at least we will get a couple of nights away for some family fun.” However, that is not how it worked out. The stipulations of booking the hotel were like jumping through multiple hoops simultaneously and there was a timeline that expired quickly. So we never got our “free lunch.” It gave us a bad taste in our mouth and raised our level of suspicion about any offer that sounded too good to be true.

Maybe you have had a similar type of experience before, where it appeared you were going to get a gift and it turned out to be a lump of coal. Maybe it was “free advice” from someone that turned out to be counsel that served them. Or perhaps it was a deal that appeared to be good, but when you read the fine print, it tuned out to be disadvantageous to you. We can all get this negative taste in our mouths that can produce in our lives a pessimistic attitude that there are no free lunches.

But the message of God points us otherwise. In Romans 6:23, we find in brief form, a summarization of God’s message to humanity, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In this passage, we find two realities.

The first reality (which we looked at last week in this column) is contained in that first phrase, “For the wages of sin is death.” Sin is when we make choices that show contempt and disregard for God and his ways. The Bible teaches something that is pretty much a self-evident truth that we have all “blown God off.” But the result, or what we deserve for sinning, is tied up in the fact that God is just. Therefore, we bring death into our lives both now and eternally. So this first reality is summed up with the notion that we have a problem with God. But, there is the good news; God has a solution.

Second reality: God’s solution is laid out in the second phrase of Romans 6:23, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God offers us a gift that is in contrast with what we deserve. This gift, this truth, can change everything!

What is a gift? A gift is some special item given without the expectation of repayment. Along the same lines, as spoken to followers of Christ, Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you are saved.” Grace presents the idea of an undeserved favor that makes salvation possible. I love this! There are free lunches!

How does that work? A great verse that helps us understand the mechanics of this more is Romans 3:25, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” “Under the hood” of grace we find the “engine” which is the atonement.

“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood.” Atonement means to make amends for an injury or a wrong. The atonement is Jesus’ death on the cross in the place of sinners.

How does one get this gift? How does God’s grace get “unleashed” into your life? It is “to be received by faith.” Just as with any gift, in order for the benefits of a present to be enjoyed, one must receive it. “For by grace you are saved through faith.” Faith is a living and bold trust in God’s grace. Faith is what puts grace into motion for your life.

Are you skeptical? Does this sound too good to be true? One thing that I have learned in my experience as a “studier” of people is that everybody believes something. I urge you to seriously consider believing God’s solution. It’s not just a spiel; it’s the real deal!

Houston - there's a problem

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I used to have a pretty good deer hunting spot. Now, I do not want to give you the wrong impression about my hunting prowess. Honestly, I am normally an “opening-day-that’s-it-hunter.” Most of the reason I go hunting is to hang out with friends and family (including my sons) at deer camp. But somehow, someway, I sort of “fell into” this really good spot where I had a few successful years.

But it all changed about 5 years ago, when at dawn on opening morning, someone was cracking leaves and branches while walking out to my blind. Of course, like any hunter, I was frustrated. “Who is walking out here to bother me at dawn on opening day?” I muttered to myself. “What neophyte isn’t sitting still right now?” my mind continued. It turned out to be the owner of the property where I was sitting and this was a problem.

The owner said, “What are you doing here? You are over the property line and it is posted ‘no hunting.’” This treasured high point was about 5 feet behind the marked trees distinguishing the two properties. But, just like a batter in baseball who is trying to bend a foul ball fair, I was trying to make the Manistee National Forests property line include this little knoll in the woods. The property owner was not convinced. He was courteous but firm, and said, “You can sit here the rest of the day but then you need to move.”

It is not pleasant to be told that you are wrong. And the truth is, I knew that I was out of bounds. As I have thought about it since, I realize that I was disregarding the authorities that had laid out those property lines. But it was so easy to justify: “It is sort of unclear in the woods how the property line runs,” and “I am only a few feet over the line,” and “As long as I am facing the public land, I am not hurting anyone (and only brief glances on the private land),” etc.  But the bottom line was I violated a boundary and the landowner was right. I had to agree with him. I was wrong and finally admitting it was a step toward resolving the problem.

Now here is something to consider, all wrongdoing or sin violates a boundary against God. Sin is when we act in a way that shows contempt for God and his ways. God does not trivialize sin (like we tend to). When we sin, it alienates our relationship with God like it does when we act wrongly in any relationship. But there is more to it than just offending God.

Romans 6:23 is an important biblical verse on sin that also relates “God’s message” to us. It says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God’s message is that he is working throughout history to save people who would turn away from their rebellion to him, and these saving acts are completed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this verse, we are jolted by “bad news” that there is a serious problem between “sinners” and God, but also we find that God’s message includes “good news.”

“For the wages of sin” points us to the idea that there is a result or an effect that our sins have on us. Wages are what someone earns or deserves. In other places in the Bible, another metaphor of “sowing and reaping” is used to help us understand that what we plant, we will also harvest. I believe this rhythm of the universe flows from God’s character— the fact that God who is just ultimately brings about an appropriate judgment.

So what is God’s verdict about sin? “For the wages of sin is death.” The cause and effect of sin is death. Death defined literally is the end of one’s life. It can also be defined as a plague that causes trouble or irritation to one’s life. In one respect, when we sin we are bringing death into our lives. For example, one who lacks honesty puts part of his character to death and creates trouble. One who commits adultery puts to death a part of the intimacy of his “covenant” relationship and unleashes a significant irritation on himself. Simply put, sin messes stuff up.

Ultimately though, God’s message teaches that the “wages of sin” is spiritual death, which means eternal separation from God. This “bad news” for those who have sinned (which includes all— Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned…”) is a tough pill to swallow. But, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (to be unpacked more in next week’s column).

Do you realize that there is a problem? God has spoken to this problem and issues an offer of healing, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.”

Are you ready for this step?  Just call out to God and admit your need. All you would be doing is agreeing with God!

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