Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grace Felicity Wencel

"We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11). This was the testimony of the apostles at the Church's first council in Jerusalem around 49 A.D. And it is our testimony, the Wencel's witness, along with countless millions. From first to last, we live our lives, and we receive our salvation from sin and God's wrath, as a free gift. It is all of grace! Ephesians 2 puts it like this: it "is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not of works, in order that no one should boast" (vv. 8–9). That is, except in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).

And as partakers of the covenant of grace bought by Jesus' freely shed blood, we are constantly conscious that all we enjoy in this life comes to us from the gratuitous goodness of our triune God, who is the "God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10). And this includes not least of all the children God has given us, as we have asked him for these gifts for his glory.

And so on October 24, 2015, at 3:30 in the afternoon, in Joliet, IL, at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the hospital where I work, God brought forth from Emily's womb our fourth child, a gorgeous girl, whom we have named Grace Felicity Wencel. Grace is from the Greek New Testament "charis," which refers to God’s free favor. Felicity derives from the Latin "felicitas," and means "happiness."

Now Grace Felicity is named "Grace" for two main reasons. First, as noted, we live our lives, and have our all, through the free grace of God in Christ. But, second, we have also named her Grace because she is a special gift to us after losing to death's clutches our second and third children (named Anastasis and Elisha, respectively).

Consequently, we know full well that Grace's being conceived and sustained and brought forth into this world, healthy and whole, are not a given. We do live, after all, we're reminded daily, in a broken and fallen world. We know therefore that possession of life for Grace comes to us through the sheer goodness and good pleasure of God, a God who is sovereign over all, a God who is Lord of the womb and Lord of the tomb. And last, though by no means least, we know that salvation from her sins and from God's just judgement—a salvation freely held out to her in Jesus' death and resurrection according to God's everlasting covenant—this salvation, from first to last, from top to bottom, from head to toe, from cradle to grave, from womb to tomb, from first breath to first death, from dust to glory, is all of it of the sheer graciousness of God.

And so standing in grace (Rom. 5:2), we receive from God's good hands, the hands of a loving heavenly Father, our beautiful tiny gift, specially crafted by a Master Maker—Grace Felicity Wencel. And now it's clear why we've named her “Grace.” She's a gift to us from God, and she's dependent on God's good Gift, even as we are. And perhaps, then, you've also perceived why it is that we've given her the middle name "Felicity." As already said, Felicity means "happiness." O the happiness! In our minds this middle name indicates the happiness that overtakes one touched by God's free favor reaching down when the sinner is not reaching up, and it points to the portion of one who is the object of God's free selective favor—divine grace!—a favor freely bestowed before the foundation of the world in Christ. O the happiness! And it also speaks to the happiness God has given us as Grace's parents, in the gift of her life, a life to be offered back up to him in our joy and for his glory.

Now, Grace Felicity Wencel, we shall address you directly. This comes from the hearts and faith of your parents. We would have you know the following, our heart’s desire, and also our prayer to God:

Our precious Grace Felicity Wencel, you are indeed a gift from God to your parents. And we are so thankful for you. In fact, we are doubly thankful, thankful for your physical life, but thankful even more for God’s gracious promise to you of eternal life in Jesus Christ your Lord. We pray that you will never doubt, not for a moment, not for the blink of an eye, the favor of our heavenly Father toward you in his Son. We pray that you will never doubt that God holds out to you freely the justification that is "by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).

Grace Felicity, you have been born into a covenant home, your parents are recipients of God's free favor, and so grace is already pouring forth from heaven over your life. You are "holy," according to God's Word (1 Cor. 7:14). All you need do is receive it, receive grace, that is, by receiving Christ. Receive him just like you are now receiving all you need from your parents, without a hint of deadly doing, without trying to earn what comes freely to you, coming through those (your parents) who possess far less resourcefulness than your heavenly Father possesses.

And, remember, Grace, even your receiving the grace of God through faith is a gift of God. Faith itself is a gift. It's not something you can work up on your own (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). God has designed it this way, so that you'll never be able to brag about being saved through your own good sense, your own biological pedigree, or your own autonomous willing. No, you are entirely dependent on God’s Gift. Dependent on God's grace!

And you need to know—because your parents' lives know it full well—that grace is sovereign. It is God's doing. Just as you didn't choose your parents, so also your salvation from sin does not come by your own choosing. It comes because God's grace pursues you, it goes after you, it lays hold on you, it will follow you all of your days (Ps. 23:6; ask your daddy about the translation of the Hebrew here). Knowing God as your parents do, and how he has reached down and grabbed hold of us when we weren't reaching up after him, it is our prayer (and expectation!) that God's grace will grab a hold of you and be your portion forever.

And you need to know, our dear daughter, that this is what we've prayed for from the moment that God formed you in the womb. For all we know (and it wouldn't surprise us in the least), God's grace has already transformed you and given you new life. John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb at the voice of the mother of the Christ (Lk. 1:41). And in Psalm 22 David said this, speaking to God: "You are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God" (vv. 9–10).

So we, your mother and I, pray earnestly that you will never try to earn God's acceptance. If you ever dare do that, you will "nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). We pray that you will regularly recall that by the grace of God you are who you are (1 Cor. 15:10). We also pray that you will know deeply in your own life that grace is not just pardon but also power, so that grace toward you will not prove vain, but be seen in your bodily labors, in your good deeds (1 Cor. 15:10). And so may you never receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

Soon you will be baptized. We, your parents, will do this in obedience to the Lord Jesus who commanded us to make disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that [he] commanded" (Matt. 28:19–20). And we shall regularly remind you of the meaning of your baptism. You have been baptized into Christ and into his death (Rom. 6:3). You have been clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). And, having been baptized, you belong to Jesus, since you have died with Christ. And since he rose from the dead, you are to walk in the newness of his life (Rom. 6:4).

And now—Grace Felicity Wencel—we "commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" by faith (Acts 20:32; cf. 26:18).

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