Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

Can People Change To Improve

June 28, 2018

Do you believe people can change?

It’s a simple question with tons of meaning.

Surely if you are a Christian, you should answer, “Yes!”

But how many Christians would answer no? Or, answer no to certain groups or types of people?

Tim Ferriss is a famous author of such books (I recommend) as 4 Hour Workweek, Tools of the Titans, and Tribe of Mentors.

Tim also has a podcast. You can find it on Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Stitcher, or my favorite Overcast. In the latest episode, he interviews three men in a maximum security prison. Two are in for gang-related murder and one for armed robbery. Their stories of life in prison, what got them there, and how they have changed for the better are moving and encouraging. I urge you to listen even though it is more than an hour.

I believe that people can, and do, change.

God loves each and every one of us humans no matter where we were born or what we look like or what our disability is. Usually we just need the right mentor at the right time.

Have Christians Lost Personal Moral Responsibility

March 8, 2018

Just like perhaps 1,000 generations of humans before me, I am sitting above the beach staring across the Pacific Ocean pondering the greatness of God and the vastness of his creation.

I’m visiting a friend who always sparks deep spiritual discussions. Lots of thinking and re-thinking.

On the plane out to California, I went over my notes from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. He discussed a 19th Century philosopher who surveyed the culture of Europe at the time and perceived that because of the Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, they had forgotten the moral imperative to live like Jesus said.

The perception of the European Church at the time was that church leaders willing took money from rich people and told poor people that they would get their reward in heaven after they died. Salvation by faith–but no moral works until then.

Both Nietzsche and Marx may not have known, but they could have said that the overemphasis on one chapter of Romans wiped out the instructions of the four gospels plus the writing of James.

My friend was asking about Christianity. I told him it was two things.

First, there is the resurrection of Jesus. Without that, then we’d just be a Jewish sect.

Second, there is (to use a church word) repentance. That means that we are to stop living the life we have been living and turn around and live a life with-God, filled with the Spirit.

You cannot read the entire New Testament and believe that everything ends with the profession of faith. Indeed, everything begins with it. From that point on, we participate in eternal life because of the way we live. That, my friends, is the moral responsibility that Nietzsche thought we had lost.

It is time that we stop, look around, and see where we stand. Has our life stopped at faith? Or, has it begun in earnest because of the faith?

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

February 21, 2018

Annie and Kim met at the coffee house, as was their pre-work custom. As they sipped their lattes, Kim begins, “Can you believe the boss? How in the world did she ever get promoted to that position? I could do 100 times better than her.”

Annie commiserates, “Yes that’s true. She is clueless. And that executive council. Who put all those men in there? Why was I not included? I’m better than any of those. I’m sure it’s just because I’m a woman, after all, lots of people have their projects fail.”

Rob orders his Americano with two extra shots of espresso and joins them. “Did you see who got that Sales VP job? They didn’t even interview me. What in the world is going on here?”

Dissension. Jealousy. It’ll rip apart any organization–business, non-profit, church.

The apostle Paul knew this.

After going through theology in his letter to the Romans followed by a discussion about how everyone is the same before God–race, gender, nationality–Paul addresses how we should live individually and in community.

Immediately after talking about renewing our minds, he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” He proceeds to list the different roles within the Christian community and the gifts that relate to each.

As for me, I have an analytical mind. I respond intellectually by analyzing the situation and the people. Care must be taken about the line between analysis and dissension. Mostly that line starts when I say something aloud.

How about you? When is it idle, or even destructive, gossip and when is it analysis that leads to improvement?

That is where the discernment that comes with transforming our minds enters the conversation.

Be Transformed By The Renewing Of Your Mind

February 20, 2018

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

–John Milton

I am in the midst of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson. This is not an easy read. (just a warning) But digging into it is worth the effort. I especially loved his rules regarding to parenting. Millions of people should read those.

In this chapter (rule), he says “Always Tell the Truth, At Least Don’t Lie.” Peterson, in his study of Milton (the English poet–if the name wasn’t familiar, get a book of English poetry and read him), says “Milton believed that stubborn refusal to change in the face of error not only meant ejection from heaven, and subsequent degeneration into an ever-deepening hell, but the rejection of redemption itself. Satan knows full well that even if he was willing to seek reconciliation, and God willing to grant it, he would only rebel again, because he will not change.”

Peterson practices and teaches clinical psychology. His book is full of examples. He further notes, “Those who have lied enough, in word and action, live there, in hell–now.”

Years ago I embarked on further study of depth psychology and brain science in order to understand one thing–how can people continue to tell themselves a belief even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it? This is something we still see today. And probably will tomorrow.

We allow our minds to be captured by emotions or by stubborn clinging to past opinions. We miss the opportunity for grace. We miss the opportunity for living a more full life filled with spirit rather than by narrow-minded law.

Paul quite consciously, for he was consummately logical, begins his section of the letter to the Romans (chapter 12) on how to live a Christian life in community by saying

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.

By This Everyone Will Know

September 25, 2017

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

We had a few days of vacation last week. Well, my wife had a week. I had four days. I took some time each day meditating. On that saying of Jesus recorded by John in his Gospel—twice. 

Repeating something means it’s important. Something like when your mom called you and used your entire given name. Not that I ever heard, “Gary Alan Mintchell! Get in here right this minute.” Well, maybe I did. And I knew the emphasis.

Look this up in John 13 and again in John 15.

Jesus gives us a commandment—Love one another.

He gives us an example—Just as I have loved you. (John places this teaching immediately following the experience of Jesus washing their feet just as a servant would do.)

He gives us an outcome—By this everyone will know…

It’s simple. 

It’s direct.

There is no room for theology, argument, dispute, equivocation.

It is also so hard to do.

But, wow, if you are ever blessed to be in such a group, it is life changing.

Let Your Speech Always Be Gracious

September 12, 2017

“Let your speech always be gracious.”

Paul says that in his letter to the Colossians where he instructs them on how to live.

I notice that he added no qualifiers. 

There is a reason–that we might be persuasive.

Does that mean that we make our points better with gracious speech rather than shouting?

Earlier in the letter, just to let us know this is important, he says, “But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”

I read these teachings and I feel challenged. I’m instinctively analytical. I analyze everything. And everyone. And often it is best that I keep all that thinking to myself. But sometimes…sometimes I say what’s on my mind anyway. Then I’m embarrassed for days.

My speech, verbal and written, must be for building up, not for tearing down.

And that’s a challenge.

How do we do that?

Paul answers. “Set your mind on things that are above.”

We become what we think about. If we are always focused on our passions, our anger, ourselves, then our speech will betray our thoughts and inner turmoil.

If we focus on Jesus and “things that are above”, then our communication will follow. Full of grace, understanding, encouraging.

What was your last Facebook post? (That seems to be the place that brings out the worst in us.) Mine was about eating Italian food. I figure that’s safe. (Well, and this gets automatically posted to Facebook. I hope my meditations are gracious more often than not.)

Thinking About Grace

July 27, 2017

Prevenient , Justifying, Sanctifying. It’s all about Grace. God’s grace. 

Ever think about grace?

It’s sometimes called “underserved merit”.

Many people I see and read about seem to not be full of grace even though they say they are Christian. It makes people wonder.

In the Wesleyan tradition of the United Methodist Church, we follow John and Charles Wesley’s attempt to describe God’s grace in three ways it manifests itself in our lives. A guy I know once asked me why Methodists have three types of grace when grace is just grace.

Well, there is just God’s grace. It’s where he offers freedom and salvation through no effort of ours. There is nothing we can do to earn it.

That drives rule followers crazy. Surely there are rules so that we can divide people into us and them? How else can we measure ourselves and find ourselves better than everyone else?

Wesley was simply saying that God’s grace precedes us. It’s there before we’re born and there when we are rebellious adolescents. Then one day we wake up to grace and understand the justifying power of God’s grace–making us right with God. Then we discover that with God’s grace and help we can mature spiritually as we mature physically–sanctifying grace.

I really like what John Fischer is doing and teaching–Grace Turned Outward.

It’s another was grace manifests itself in our life. We acknowledge the grace we have received, and instead of keeping it to ourselves, we turn outward to help other people discover grace.

John wrote yesterday about grace and gave a little test about whether you know grace. I’m going to give you a taste. Check out his post (linked above). I like these. Made me stop and consider.

Here’s a little test:

If you feel guilty all the time, you do not know grace.

If you are competing in your own mind for spirituality, you do not know grace.

If you are counting up points, good or bad – for you or for someone else – you do not know grace.

If you are comparing yourself to anyone, you do not know grace.

If you are thinking that God is lucky to have you on His team, you do not know grace.

If you are trying all the time and not quite making it, you do not know grace.

If you are always thinking about yourself, you do not know grace.

If you are thinking so-and-so will not be in heaven, you do not know grace.

Give Us The Capacity For Extending Grace

June 16, 2017

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Not every person is emotionally healthy.

Not every person is responsible.

People do and say thoughtless, hurtful, things  all the time. Sometimes directly to us. Sometimes we just read about it. Sometimes the incident is so vivid that we live it vicariously.

Can we extend grace?

God extended grace to us. We did not deserve it. We have it. Dangling right there before us.  Only to be acknowledged.

Can we also as disciples of Jesus, as one of those who seek to be like our master, can we also extend grace?

It is hard.

It requires humility.

It requires being firmly in the spirit.

Can we extend grace?

To those who hurt us.

To those with whom we disagree.

To those who are different from us.

Watch Out For Pointing Fingers

April 20, 2017

Our pastor somehow worked the evils of sex into every message. Then one day, he ran off with the wife of the chairman of the Board of Deacons. — Told to me by a friend years ago.

A “Mr. Morality” on TV is now looking for a job after years of sexual impropriety become public.

Hamlet:
Madam, how like you this play?

Queen:
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Gertrude says that Player Queen affirms so much as to lose credibility. Her vows are too elaborate, too artful, too insistent.

Shakespeare

Yes, sometimes we seem to affirm morality so much that others begin to doubt just how moral we are.

Have you ever looked deeply within? Just as Paul describes early in Romans, I have looked and discovered that within me, I am capable of many sins and immorality.

I’d rather spend my energy focusing on me, and my path. It is not for me to point out everyone’s wrongdoing. That is too easy.

As Jesus pointed out, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” [Matthew 7, but also Luke 6]

Or Paul in Romans [2] who is more prosaic and less poetic, “You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Like yesterday’s thoughts on an angry mom who tweets, it’s too easy to take shots at others. Better is to take care of our own spiritual house.

God’s Kindness Leads to Our Changing Our Life

January 18, 2017

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? — Paul, to the Roman church

If you judge other people as to the things they do that are wrong, you judge yourself as well.

Paul was very clear. He listed all the moral wrongs that people do. He must have realized that when people heard that list, they would immediately assume that the list applied to other people. Then he hits them, hard, by saying in essence that you also do things morally wrong. How is it then that you can sit there with righteous face on condemning others? You also are condemned.

But Paul doesn’t leave us just hanging out there condemned. He offers an alternative.

Already in the letter he hints at the theme. God’s grace.

Is repentance one of those words that triggers images of mean-spirited men or women with frowning faces, pointing fingers, shouting at you that you’re going to hell?

Actually all it means is that where once your life journey took you to places with people that you should not have gone to and with. Then you decide, with God’s help, to turn in a different direction and live life differently.

Instead of following our passions, our emotions, our “friends”, we start acting according to the many examples we can find from Jesus and Paul and others.

We put God first.

We help those in need.

Our lives reflect the fruit of the spirit–love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

(Me, I’m working on that forbearance part. What about you?)

We practice the spiritual disciplines–study, prayer, meditation, living simply, quiet, celebration, worship, and the rest.