Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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.

 

What If We Lived Everyone Had A Soul

January 10, 2017

Yesterday I was a little philosophical. But not really if you digest the thought that we are all souls that have a physical body.

What if we took care of our souls like we took care of our bodies? For some of us, that’s not so good. On the other hand, checking out most of the advertisements on TV, magazines, interspersed in your social media “news” streams, and so on, you’d think that we devote hours of thinking about how to get our physical bodies beautiful.

What about our soul?

While I was meditating this morning, I was hit by this vision–what if we treated everyone we meet as a soul loved by a God who dearly wants to draw it (him/her) close?

What if a politician, instead of making an object of an opponent and says things like “it’s just politics”, actually considers that even opponents are human souls loved by God? Maybe despite differing opinions they could work together to solve problems that a government can solve.

Once again while meditating, The Autobiography of Malcolm X came to me. Have you not read that? As a Christian reading it 50 years ago, I was grieved that a black man in the 50s and 60s could not find acceptance within Christian circles but the followers of Islam welcomed him as a brother. Even when he traveled to Mecca.

What if, instead of sitting in our seats in church judging others who come into the room by their clothes or appearance or race, welcomed them as brothers and sisters. Fellow human souls loved by a God who wants to draw them close?

Would that change the way we live each day?

Certainly we must evaluate people and not be led astray by manipulators and people consumed by evil. But how many of those do you meet in a day?

Maybe today I will look at everyone I meet and think about just a little differently.

A Change Of Scenery

August 17, 2016

IMG_2955

 

Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need. This is looking over Green Bay from my lodge in Door County, Wisconsin. I grew up where there was no water. No stream. The lake was 20 miles away. A little stream we called a river was 7 or 8 miles away. When you’re a kid on a bicycle, that is a long way.

It’s 6 am and no one is out save the crows. Last night’s thunderstorm cleared the air and left a little mist rising from the woods.

I seldom read the Psalms. Don’t know why. I like poetry–even published some a long time ago.

But you get the feeling like David must have. In the still of the morning or evening after one of his high-tension days, he sat and meditated looking over the landscape. And his thoughts focused on God.

He thought about his needs and worries. Then he thought about God’s graciousness. How if you just trust God, it’ll work out somehow.

And whatever will be good for the soul.

I have projects piling up. Need to wrap up about three of them before Labor Day.

But for today. It’s just you and me, God. Right?

Receiving Grace, Giving Grace

August 16, 2016

It was the end of a group meeting. It’s where we pray for each other and go home.

The study for the day was the part of Ephesian 4 where Paul is describing Christian life. About speaking the truth in gentleness and love. About focusing on others.

Then out of nowhere someone erupts in anger, “The church is going to hell. It accepts homosexuals.”

I thought, “Huh? Where did that come from?”

Well, it came from the depths of the things he dwells his thoughts in. He’d never admit hatred, but the tone of his voice betrayed him.

It was a shocking end to a study of grace.

It just shows the distance between your head and your heart. You can “learn” things but it may not change your heart.

I was affected by John Fischer’s latest Catch newsletter:

Grace doesn’t just stop with my receiving it; it goes on in the way I give it out. The way we are treated will affect the way we treat others.

This is an important part of receiving from God; it changes us. You can’t receive God’s grace without giving it out to others. You can’t receive what you don’t deserve and then go out and make everyone else pay.

I know it’s hard to live a life full of grace. And it’s hard to offer grace to other people. And I know that anger is an honest emotion. But anger also often betrays the condition of our heart. It reveals insecurities, prejudices, ignorance.

Those are the moments when I am grieved. What hope is there when people who receive grace refuse to give it on to someone else.

And, wow, our society could use a big dose of grace right now! From everyone.

Welcoming or Blocking

August 12, 2016

While researching for yesterday’s post on humility, I spotted this teaching of Jesus.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

John Fischer at The Catch talks often about welcoming Christianity, about grace turned outward. I think about those people who call themselves Christians who stand in the marketplace and in the political realm and shout out a message very  like the one Jesus condemned.

Yesterday in Fischer’s email he said:

There is a mean-spiritedness prevalent in our society today and we need to counter it as Christians in the marketplace. Donald Trump’s success is not because of Donald Trump, it’s because his message and bullish attitude has connected with a large number of people who are not happy with the way things are and feel powerless to do anything about it.

First, we need to cultivate an overall graciousness whenever we are operating in the public square.

Second, we need to cultivate compassion – not only caring for the needs of the disabled or the less fortunate because their needs are often so obvious, but for everyone.

And finally, we need to cultivate an overall attitude of respect for every human being no matter who they are or what they represent. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is the evil one, and when we make people or groups of people our enemies we are playing right into his hand. Learn to see the image of God in everyone.

That attitude, and just listening to his podcast, makes me glad that two of my friends told me about him. Yes, as Christ-followers, we really need to bring grace and compassion into the marketplace and general discourse.

This song resonated with me 40+ years ago, and still does.

Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary)wrote this song, “Hymn.” The times are different, but there is a similarity. We sometimes still talk theory rather than people.

I visited some houses
Where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving

They passed a basket with some envelopes
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was I believe in You

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that
You had been replaced by Your assistants

The discussion was theology
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was I believe in You