FIRST-PERSON: The Baptist national anthem?

CANTON, Ga. (BP) -- I had not been a Christian long when, in lighthearted fashion, the pastor of the church where my wife and I had been recently baptized as new believers asked the congregation to stand for the singing of the "Baptist National Anthem." Wow! Baptist had their own national anthem! Who knew?

I had absolutely no clue what was about to take place when we began to sing. The hymn? John Newton's immortal "Amazing Grace."

I've since realized that Amazing Grace might be considered somewhat of a "national anthem" in many denominations. And that many other beloved hymns might be accorded this type of lofty status.

We never sang Amazing Grace in the church I grew up attending sporadically. I remember hearing folk-pop singer named Judy Collins sing it back in the early 1970s, but in a different style than we sang it that Sunday evening many years ago. I've noticed something over the years that no matter the style in which you sing it, the message of God's amazing grace never loses its wonder.

When one considers all the adjectives Newton could have used to amplify the word grace, how amazing that he chose "amazing." What word better describes this miraculous, merciful, action by God on sinful man's behalf than the word amazing? The synonym for this word that comes closest to me is the word "astonishing" with "astounding" coming in a close second.

I don't know why, but recently I was thinking about grace in the context of a free lunch I get to enjoy every year. For those who wonder, yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch. For military veterans it happens on Veterans Day when a number of restaurant chains offer vets a free meal to express gratitude to those who have put on the uniform. As a proud U.S. Navy veteran, I so much appreciate this generous display of gratitude and I, for one, am not about to say no to this freebie.

I like freebies and, no doubt, so do you. That is why, among other reasons, I am so astonished and astounded by grace. It costs me nothing though it cost God so much. Grace has made its recipients the owners of so many blessings over the course of their Christian lives. Beginning with the great salvation Jesus died on the cross to provide, how wonderfully the goodness of grace continues to enrich our lives. And to think it all comes as a freebie from the generous, giving hand of God.

I personally can identify with the apostle Paul's description of where salvation has brought us, as he spelled out in Ephesians 2. I indeed was dead in my trespasses and sin; a man in rebellion against God and walking in step with the god of this world. I had allowed myself to become a child of wrath and worthy of condemnation. As the son of parents involved in the liquor business, it became so easy for me as a teenager and then a college student to slip into the "eat, drink and be merry" culture. Then as a young bachelor naval officer, I found a similar culture. I was totally bought in -- hook, line and sinker.

But like Saul of Tarsus, God made me alive in Christ and turned my life around when by grace through faith He saved me. Thank God for that young enlisted man who was available that February night at the Naval Base in Little Creek, Va., when I found myself hungry to know what this thing called born-again Christianity was all about. Thank God for that Naval Academy roommate who, when asked by me what made him so different from the rest of us, spoke of his committed Christian life being the result of being born again. Though his confession made no difference at the time, it bore fruit a decade later as it placed a seed in my life that God used to bring me to Himself.

So, wouldn't it be fitting that we stand to sing Amazing Grace? A national anthem? No, but a hymn that, like none other, uplifts the greatest free gift ever given.

Doug Metzger is a retired pastor in Canton, Ga., who served churches 20-plus years in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and California in addition to eight years with the North American Mission Board as director of prayer evangelism and, earlier, director of its Strategic Focus Cities emphasis and three years with its predecessor, the Home Mission Board, as associate director of personal evangelism.
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